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Patients’ and physiotherapists’ belief in and use of acupuncture for cancer-related symptoms


Background It is important to investigate attitudes to acupuncture, because therapists’ and patients’ expectations may affect the treatment outcome.

Aim To explore the use of and belief in acupuncture among oncological physiotherapists and to explore patients’ interest in receiving acupuncture during cancer therapy and their belief in its effectiveness.

Methods 522 patients (80% female, mean age 67 years) reported on their interest in receiving acupuncture for nausea during radiotherapy treatment; a subgroup (n=198) additionally disclosed their belief in the effectiveness of acupuncture. 117 Swedish oncological physiotherapists (96% female, mean age 48 years) answered a questionnaire regarding their use of and belief in acupuncture.

Results Of the patients initiating cancer therapy, 359 (69%) were interested in receiving acupuncture. The patients believed acupuncture to be effective for pain (79%), nausea (79%) and vasomotor symptoms (48%). Of the 117 physiotherapists, 66 (56%) practised acupuncture. Physiotherapists generally believed in the effectiveness of acupuncture. For pain, 89% believed that acupuncture was effective and 42% of them practised it. Similar responses were noted for chemotherapy-induced nausea (86% and 38%, respectively) and vasomotor symptoms (80% and 28%, respectively). Younger physiotherapists and patients were more likely to believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture compared with older ones.

Conclusions More than two thirds of patients with cancer were interested in receiving acupuncture during therapy. Patients and oncological physiotherapists believed that acupuncture was effective for cancer pain, nausea and vasomotor symptoms. Further studies of acupuncture for cancer-related symptoms and of the effect of patients’ and clinicians’ therapeutic relationships, including treatment expectations, would be welcome.


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