Relaxation Techniques, Acupuncture May Reduce Pain, Anxiety After Gynecologic Cancer Surgery

Patients undergoing surgery for gynecologic cancer may benefit from acupressure, acupuncture and other relaxation techniques regarding pain relief and a reduction in anxiety.

Women undergoing surgery for gynecologic cancers may significantly reduce their anxiety, depression and pain with preoperative relaxation techniques and acupuncture during the procedure, according to recent study results.

“The most important finding of the study was that intraoperative acupuncture applied during the gynecology-oncology surgery, significantly improved high-intensity pain, as reported by patients 24 hours postoperatively,” said Dr. Eran Ben-Arye, director of the integrative oncology program at Lin, Carmel and Zebulun Medical Centers within the Clalit Health Service in Haifa, Israel, in an interview with CURE®.

“The study also showed that preoperative manual and relaxation techniques, mainly acupressure and guided imagery, decrease postoperative anxiety levels among these patients.”

Researchers analyzed data from 99 patients undergoing surgery for gynecologic cancer who were categorized into three groups:

  • received touch/relaxation techniques before surgery and acupuncture during surgery (45 patients),
  • received touch/relaxation techniques before surgery only (25 patients), and
  • standard of care before and during surgery (29 patients).

Ben-Arye said that patients from this study were part of a program that is currently in place at his institution.

“The study was part of an initiative whose stated goal was providing continuity of integrative oncology care to patients with gynecology cancer,” he told CURE®. “Over the past 14 years, we have been offering patients undergoing chemotherapy with integrative oncology treatments without charge, helping improve their quality of life and increasing their adherence to the conventional oncology treatment protocol. The research presented in the current paper examined the introduction of the integrative treatment from as early as the time of cancer diagnosis and throughout the presurgical, surgical and postsurgical inpatient setting.”

Patients assigned touch/relaxation therapies either with acupuncture or by itself underwent acupressure (applying pressure with fingers, for example, to different parts of the body to help the flow of energy), breathing exercises and relaxation exercises like guided imagery (meditation with showing images to patients).

Patients assigned acupuncture underwent treatment after being intubated (when a tube is placed into the trachea to maintain an open airway) for surgery. In particular, acupuncture focused on several areas of the body shown to be effective in reducing pain including the liver, large intestine, stomach, spleen and near the ear.

All three groups took several questionnaires before and after surgery to gauge levels of pain, anxiety and other quality-of-life measures.

Patients assigned touch/relaxation techniques either alone or with acupuncture had higher scores related to their recovery experience after surgery compared with those assigned standard of care. Of note, these particular scores took into consideration severe pain and anxiety.

Results of the study, which was published in the journal Cancer, demonstrated the touch/relaxation techniques with acupuncture resulted in a greater improvement for severe pain compared standard of care.

Patients assigned the relaxation techniques alone or with acupuncture had an improvement in depression levels compared with those assigned standard of care. In addition, the relaxation with or without acupuncture groups had a better improvement in concerns related to wellbeing compared with the control group.

Ben-Arye said that patients who will be undergoing surgery for gynecologic cancers can potentially integrate acupuncture into their care plan.

“(Patients can) openly ask their oncologist and surgeon to incorporate integrative oncology treatment as an integral part of the supportive care provided in (this) oncology center,” he explained. “Integrative oncology treatment — acupuncture included, provided by trained practitioners — is a safe and effective treatment that should be considered before, during and following gynecological oncology surgery.”

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