Acupuncture Reduced Bladder Cancer Pain, Urinary Symptoms


Acupuncture reduced pain “in a very significant way” and urinary symptoms for patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer who were undergoing BCG therapy.

Acupuncture reduced pain and urinary symptoms in patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer who were undergoing Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) therapy, according to recent research presented at the 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting.

The complementary therapy involves placing small, sterile needles in specific points of the body that could have clinical significance on reducing pain and other symptoms. In fact, multiple leading breast cancer organizations recommend acupuncture to manage cancer-related pain.

In this study, “it seemed to reduce both pain, and — in a very significant way — urinary symptoms, as patients went through six weeks of weekly treatments for this bladder cancer,” explained author Dr. Sarah Psutka, an assistant professor of Urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.


This was a randomized-controlled trial, which means that patients did not get to choose which arm they went into, where 45 patients were randomized: 30 patients to an arm where they received acupuncture in the urology clinic during their visits where they would receive BCG, which is medicine in the bladder to treat non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, versus 15 patients were randomized into a control arm.

The goal here was to see if acupuncture given before BCG installations could help to reduce the bad bladder symptoms that a lot of patients suffer as they're going through BCG therapy. Those symptoms are predominantly bladder pain, urinary frequency and urgency. And so the idea (behind this study) was to develop an acupuncture intervention that hopefully could reduce those symptoms.

The critical findings were (that) we found that patients, one, were interested in the trial. And so we were able to recruit people into this trial, which is a key (answer to) the question: “do patients even want to try acupuncture, as they're thinking about managing their bladder symptoms as they're going through BCG?”

We found that it was very safe; there were no adverse events that were significant in any way, shape or form. It didn't delay patients getting the cancer treatment they needed. And then, importantly, patients really liked the therapy. The patients who were randomized to the acupuncture arm reported strong satisfaction with the treatment, they said that they were very happy they had received it and many of them recommended it as part of BCG-related bladder cancer therapy.

Beyond all that, we also looked at whether or not it helped. And what we found in a very small study was that it seemed to reduce both pain and — in a very significant way — urinary symptoms, as patients went through six weeks of weekly treatments for this bladder cancer. So it's a small study, but it demonstrates a couple of really critical findings with respect to the potential usefulness of acupuncture to help patients undergoing treatment for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer.

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