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Study Shows Integrative Medicine Can Relieve Pain and Anxiety for Cancer Inpatients

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Key Points

  • In a study of 1,833 hospitalized cancer patients, integrative medicine interventions reduced patients’ pain by an average of 47% and reduced anxiety by 56%.
  • Patients being treated for lung, bronchus, and trachea cancers showed the largest percentage decrease in pain (51%), and patients with prostate cancer reported the largest percentage decrease in anxiety (64%).

Pain is a common symptom of cancer and side effect of cancer treatment, and treating cancer-related pain is often a challenge for health-care providers.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing researchers found that integrative medicine therapies can substantially decrease pain and anxiety for hospitalized cancer patients. Their findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs.

"Following integrative medicine interventions, such as medical massage, acupuncture, guided imagery, or relaxation response intervention, cancer patients experienced a reduction in pain by an average of 47% and anxiety by 56%," said Jill Johnson, PhD, MPH, lead author and Senior Scientific Advisor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, Minneapolis.

Clinically Important Improvements

"The size of these reductions is clinically important, because theoretically, these therapies can be as effective as medications, which is the next step of our research," said Jeffery Dusek, PhD, senior author and Research Director for the Penny George Institute.

The Penny George Institute receives funding from the National Center of Alternative and Complementary Medicine of the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of integrative therapies on pain over many hours as well as over the course of a patient's entire hospital stay.

"The overall goal of this research is to determine how integrative services can be used with or instead of narcotic medications to control pain," Dr. Johnson said.

Study Details

Researchers looked at electronic medical records from admissions at Abbott Northwestern Hospital between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2012. From more than 10,000 admissions, researchers identified 1,833 in which cancer patients received integrative medicine services.

Patients were asked to report their pain and anxiety before and just after the integrative medicine intervention, which averaged 30 minutes in duration.

Patients being treated for lung, bronchus, and trachea cancers showed the largest percentage decrease in pain (51%). Patients with prostate cancer reported the largest percentage decrease in anxiety (64%).

Funding for the study was provided by the National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, George Family Foundation, the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation, and the American Massage Therapy Association.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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