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Effects of auricular acupuncture on appetite in patients with advanced cancer: a pilot randomized controlled trial


Over half of patients with advanced cancer report appetite loss or anorexia. Previous studies have shown the benefit of acupuncture for cancer-related nausea and vomiting, but limited evidence exists for its role in appetite improvement. Our study aimed to evaluate the feasibility and safety of auricular acupuncture to improve appetite for cancer patients with advanced disease.

We performed a two-arm parallel, pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) of auricular acupuncture versus usual care control in patients with stage III or IV cancer who experienced appetite loss. The primary outcome was changed in the Simplified Nutritional Appetite Questionnaire (SNAQ; score range, 4-20) between two groups from baseline to weeks 2 and 4, with secondary outcomes including change in weight, as well as an additional evaluation at week 8 for durability of treatment effects. We used independent two-sample t-test for the change in mean score for each outcome during or after treatment. We assessed the interaction between time and treatment from baseline to weeks 2, 4, and 8 using mixed-effects models by ANOVA test.

We randomized 55 patients to auricular acupuncture (N=27) or control group (N=28). By week 4, the auricular acupuncture group had a significantly higher escalation in the SNAQ score than the control group compared with baseline [mean difference 3.69; 95% confidential interval (95% CI): 2.5, 4.8; P<0.001] and experienced a 51.4% improvement in appetite. From baseline to weeks 2 and 4, patients lost a little weight in the control group but gained weight in the auricular acupuncture group. Between baseline and week 4, change in the SNAQ score was significantly associated with change in weight (P=0.001). No adverse events (AEs) were reported during the study.

Compared to usual care, auricular acupuncture is feasible and safe to improve appetite and help patients with advanced cancer gain weight.

Sun L, Mao JJ, Liu Q, Yang Y, He B.

Ann Palliat Med. 2020 Jul;9(4):1804-1811. doi: 10.21037/apm.2020.04.24. Epub 2020 Apr 27. PMID: 32389019.

Link: https://apm.amegroups.com/article/view/41232/html

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