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A feasibility study to examine the role of acupuncture to reduce symptoms of lymphoedema after breast cancer: a randomised controlled trial
  1. Caroline A Smith1,
  2. Marie Pirotta2,
  3. Sharon Kilbreath3
  1. 1National Institute for Complementary Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia
  2. 2Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  3. 3Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Caroline Smith, National Institute for Complementary Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag1797, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia; caroline.smith{at}


Objective To determine the feasibility, acceptability and safety of using acupuncture to treat arm lymphoedema in women following treatment for breast cancer.

Methods We conducted a randomised controlled trial of acupuncture compared with treatment as usual. Twenty women with stable unilateral intransient lymphoedema present for at least 6 months were recruited from Sydney, Australia. The women received 12 acupuncture treatments administered to body and arm points on the non-lymphoedematous limb over 8 weeks, twice weekly for 4 weeks then once weekly for 4 weeks. Outcome measures included an assessment of interest to participate in the trial, identification of successful recruitment strategies, the appropriateness of eligibility criteria and compliance with treatment attendance. Clinical outcomes were assessed at baseline and 8 weeks and included extracellular fluid, lymphoedema symptoms, well-being and safety.

Results Acupuncture was an acceptable intervention in women with upper limb lymphoedema. Compliance with the treatment protocol was high, with nine women completing all 12 treatments. Outcome forms were completed by 17 women at 8 weeks. No major adverse occurrences, as defined by the study protocol, were reported from the acupuncture group although one woman found the needling uncomfortable, and no study participant experienced an increase in swelling of >10%. There was no change in extracellular fluid or any patient-reported outcome measurement.

Conclusions Lymphoedema is a persistent symptom experienced by women recovering from breast cancer. Our study suggests that acupuncture may stabilise symptoms and no major safety concerns were identified, so further research is needed.

Trial registration number Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12612000607875.


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