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CBT-I bests acupuncture for treating insomnia among cancer survivors



Cancer survivors who have trouble sleeping saw improvements with both cognitive-behavioral therapy designed specifically for insomnia (CBT-I) and acupuncture, according to results from the randomized, controlled CHOICE trial. But the former is more efficacious.

“Insomnia can have deleterious effects on quality of life and function, and occurs in up to 60% of cancer survivors,” lead study author Jun J. Mao, MD, chief of integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, said in a press briefing held in advance of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“CBT-I is a highly effective therapy and can be considered the gold standard of treatment,” he noted. However, this modality may be limited by poor adherence and nonresponse. Moreover, it is highly specialized and not currently available in many cancer centers or communities.

Functional imaging studies have shown that acupuncture can regulate brain regions involving cognition and emotion that are essential to sleep regulation, and clinical research has shown that it can improve pain- and hot flash–related sleep disturbances, according to Dr. Mao. About 73% of U.S. comprehensive cancer centers offer acupuncture for symptom management.

Main results of the CHOICE (Choosing Options for Insomnia in Cancer Effectively) trial showed that patients in both the CBT-I and acupuncture groups reduced their Insomnia Severity Index scores by more than one-half at the end of the 8-weeks treatment period, but the reduction was a statistically significant 2.6 points greater with CBT-I. Benefit of each treatment was still evident after 12 weeks.

Response rate was higher with CBT-I than with acupuncture only among patients having mild insomnia at baseline, and the two treatments yielded similar improvements in mental and physical quality of life.

“Among cancer patients with insomnia, we found that both acupuncture and CBT-I produced clinically meaningful and durable benefit, but overall, CBT-I is more effective in reducing insomnia severity,” Dr. Mao concluded. “Our hope is that by doing this type of research, we can help patients and clinicians pick the right kind of treatment and help them to manage their sleep. Our next step is to really examine for what type of patient treatment would be beneficial, and how to deliver this type of effective treatment to the broader community of cancer patients.”


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