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Acupuncture (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Human / Clinical Studies

Effect of Acupuncture on Immune Function

At least seven human studies have evaluated the effect of acupuncture on immune system function in patients with cancer.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7] These studies were all conducted in China. Five were reported in English,[1,2,3,6,7] and two were reported in Chinese with English abstracts.[4,5]

Four randomized controlled trials,[1,2,4,5] a nonrandomized clinical study,[3] and two case series [6,7] found that acupuncture enhanced or regulated immune function.

The first randomized controlled trial found that acupuncture treatment enhanced platelet count and prevented leukocyte decrease after radiation therapy or chemotherapy, in comparison with the control group.[1]

A second study involved a group of 40 postoperative cancer patients, 20 of whom received daily acupuncture treatment and 20 of whom served as a control group. After 3 days, leukocyte phagocytosis was enhanced in the treated group, compared with the baseline measurement (P < .01); no such enhancement was observed in the control group.[2]

A third study observed the effect of acupuncture on interleukin-2 (IL-2) and natural killer (NK) cell activity in the peripheral blood of patients with malignant tumors. The patients were divided into an acupuncture treatment group (n = 25), which received 30 minutes of acupuncture daily for 10 days, and a nonacupuncture control group (n = 20). The data showed that IL-2 level and NK cell activity were significantly increased in the acupuncture group, compared with the control group (P < .01).[4]

A fourth study observed the effect of acupuncture on T-lymphocyte subsets (CD3 +, CD4 +, and CD8 +), soluble IL-2 receptor (SIL-2R), and beta-endorphin (beta-EP) in the peripheral blood of patients with malignant tumors. The data showed that acupuncture treatment increased the proportion of the CD3 + and CD4 + T-lymphocyte subsets, the CD4 +/CD8 + ratio (P < .01), and the level of beta-EP. It decreased the level of SIL-2R (P < .01). The investigators suggested that the anticancer effect of acupuncture may be mediated via the mechanism of immunomodulation. [5]

The nonrandomized clinical study showed that microwave acupuncture (MAT), a newly developed technique in which a specially designed device attached to a normally inserted acupuncture needle is used to deliver microwave radiation to a given point, enhanced the immunologic function of cancer patients. Although there was an increase in white blood cell count in the MAT group, the change was not significantly different from that seen in the control group under drug treatment.[3]

In a clinical case series, 28 cancer patients who were treated with electroacupuncture (EA) while undergoing chemotherapy experienced no declines in T cells (CD3 +, CD4 +, CD8 +) or in NK cell activity, both of which are usually suppressed by chemotherapy.[7] Similar findings were reported in a study comparing EA to the control in patients receiving chemotherapy for breast, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.[8]

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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