Results Summary

What was the research about?

Children and youth who receive cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, often have side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Medicines can reduce these side effects, but they can cause others.

In this study, the research team wanted to learn if acupressure reduced treatment side effects in children and youth with cancer. In acupressure, a trained therapist applies pressure to points on the body. The team also wanted to know if teaching caregivers how to use acupressure on their children reduced caregivers’ distress.

What were the results?

Patients who had cancer treatment with and without acupressure didn’t differ in their reports of

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain intensity
  • Fatigue
  • Overall physical and emotional symptoms
  • Depression, anxiety, or positive emotions

Compared with patients who didn’t have acupressure, those who did had

  • A higher amount of pain noted in their health record
  • More patient-reported effects from pain on their lives

Patients didn’t differ in how likely they were to take pain or nausea medicine. Among those who took pain medicine, patients who had acupressure took more medicine than those who didn’t have acupressure.

Caregivers who did and didn’t learn to give acupressure had similar depression, anxiety, and positive emotions. They also had similar confidence in their ability to be a caregiver.

Who was in the study?

The study included 95 patients, ages 5–24, receiving cancer treatment and 90 caregivers. All patients received chemotherapy as part or all of their cancer treatment. Patients received care from a Northern California hospital system. Among patients, 36 percent were White, 13 percent were Asian, 5 percent were Black, 3 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 43 percent reported other or more than one race; 34 percent were Latinx. The average age was 12, and 61 percent were boys or young men. Among caregivers, 80 percent were mothers, and the average age was 41.

What did the research team do?

The research team assigned patients by chance to one of two groups, acupressure plus usual care or usual care alone. For patients who received acupressure, a trained therapist offered sessions at the hospital each weekday for 30 days. The therapist also taught caregivers how to use acupressure on the patients when needed. All patients received usual care, which included medicines to reduce cancer treatment side effects.

Patients and caregivers filled out surveys before starting treatment, daily during treatment, and a month after treatment ended. The research team also looked at health records.

Cancer survivors, a specialist in treating nausea and vomiting, and a hospital director gave input on the study.

What were the limits of the study?

Fewer patients enrolled in the study than planned, making it hard to find differences in symptoms. Patients who received acupressure had more pain at the start of the study, which may have affected the results.

Future research could look at other ways to manage side effects in children and youth having cancer treatment.

How can people use the results?

Doctors can use these results when considering ways to help children and youth manage cancer treatment side effects.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also assesses how the project addressed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts read a draft report of the research and provide comments about the report. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. These reviewers cannot have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve descriptions of the conduct of the study or to clarify the connection between results and conclusions. Sometimes, awardees revise their draft reports twice or more to address all of the reviewers’ comments.

Peer reviewers commented and the researchers made changes or provided responses. Those comments and responses included the following:

  • The reviewers asked for additional information on changes made to the study to reduce the scope of the work at six months and wanted more information on the factors that contributed to changes in the study objectives. The researchers added more detail about their difficulties in recruiting the target number of participants, leading to a substantial reduction in the study’s sample size. Therefore, although the study objectives did not change per se, the study itself was reduced in scope to the extent that it could be considered a pilot study or feasibility trial rather than a comparative effectiveness study.
  • The reviewers questioned the reasonability of conducting a large effectiveness study on acupressure in this population given the null results in this study. The researchers expanded their discussion in the report on what the goals would be for future trials. They admitted that any future definitive effectiveness study would need multiple sites to successfully enroll the patients they needed. The researchers said they considered several factors in any plans for a future effectiveness trial, including families’ enthusiasm to use integrative therapy, parents’ capacity to complete questionnaires while their children were receiving treatment for cancer, and availability of a sufficient patient population.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

E. Anne Lown, DPH
University of California San Francisco
Acupressure Intervention to Reduce Treatment-Related Symptoms in Children with Cancer

Key Dates

December 2016
July 2021

Study Registration Information


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Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
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Last updated: January 20, 2023