Dec. 19 (UPI) -- People with cancer desperate to relieve the pain often associated with the disease may want to explore one of the oldest medicinal approaches in the world: acupuncture.
A review of 14 clinical trials published Thursday in JAMA Oncology found that the technique, in which needles are inserted into the skin, and a related "traditional medicine" approach called acupressure, "significantly" reduced cancer pain.
People treated with the two approaches in general needed less prescription pain medication to resolve their discomfort, the review also found.
"The findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that, based on moderate-level evidence, acupuncture and/or acupressure may be associated with significant reductions in pain intensity and opioid use," wrote the authors, who are based primarily in Asia and Australia.
Both acupuncture and acupressure -- a technique in which practitioners typically use their hands, apply pressure to certain regions of the body -- have been used for centuries, primarily in China and other parts of Asia.
Although they have become increasingly popular in the United States, particularly over the past 20 years or so, many clinicians are reluctant to recommend them, given the relative lack of scientific evidence supporting their use.
For the analysis, the authors selected already published studies that compared acupuncture and acupressure with a sham control, analgesic therapy or usual care for managing cancer pain. In all, they identified 14 randomized, controlled clinical trials that enrolled a total of 920 participants that met their criteria for inclusion.
The authors noted that seven of the studies that "were notable for their high quality (and) being judged to have a low risk of bias" demonstrated that acupuncture was associated with reduced pain intensity -- with a mean difference of -1.38 points on a 1-to-10 scale -- compared to a sham control, or placebo.
In addition, six of the studies show that, when combined with prescription pain relievers, acupuncture and acupressure reduced pain intensity by a mean difference of -1.44 points on a 1-to-10 scale.
"How to integrate acupuncture into pain and symptom management plans for patients with cancer remains a challenge," the authors wrote. "With the growing evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture, most National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers have begun offering acupuncture. However, the cost of treatments and exclusion from insurance coverage were identified as major barriers to using acupuncture."
They added, "Further research is needed to investigate the association of acupuncture with specific pain syndromes."