Can massaging key points on the body reduce the burdensome fatigue so often experienced by breast cancer survivors after treatment is completed?
The first large study of its kind, published in JAMA Oncology in July, found that the answer is yes. Fatigued survivors who self-administered acupressure — a close cousin of acupuncture that's inexpensive and needle-free — were much more likely to experience improvement than those who did not. At week six, 61 to 66 percent of acupressure users had normal fatigue levels, compared with 31 percent of survivors who did not use acupressure.
The results were so good, according to study co-author Suzanna M. Zick, that the researchers now recommend that breast cancer survivors try the approach at home.
"We think that it's so low-risk, and if it doesn't work for them, OK, all they've lost is a little bit of time," said Zick, an associate research professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan. "But if it works, that's great. They have a tool that they can use themselves."
Survivors who want to try acupressure for post-treatment fatigue can get basic directions by emailing the researchers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We're also in the process of developing an app, so women can have it on their phone and be able to use it and learn themselves," Zick said. "We're doing focus groups right now in design, so it's a new process for me, but I think it's probably going to be sometime next year before it will be available."
Users would go on the app and see videos demonstrating how to find the acupressure points and stimulate them using the correct amount of pressure.
About a third of women experience persistent fatigue up to 10 years after breast cancer treatment, according to the study.