Skepdude

From the creator of Video Skepdude

Study says accupuncture works-except it can’t say it!

Acupuncture works for head and neck pain after cancer surgery, according to a clinical study released at the annual meeting here of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

A traditional Chinese medical technique, acupuncture was also found to improve shoulder mobility that is often restricted after surgical cancer procedures involving the mouth, nose, upper throat, sinuses and other throat and nose passages, researchers said Saturday.

Seventy patients took part in a random study by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) researchers, in New York, at least three months after they underwent cancer surgery and radiation treatment.

One half received acupuncture, the rest the usual care, which includes physical therapy exercises and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Of the patients who received four acupuncture sessions over four weeks, 39 percent reported less pain and greater mobility, compared to only seven percent of the group that received usual care.

“Like any other treatment, acupuncture does not work for everyone, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for many,” said study co-author Dr Barrie Cassileth, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at MSKCC.

Ok, I don’t buy this. There are too many problems with this study, that even I as a non-scientist can point some of them out.

First, small sample size, only 70 patients. That is nowhere near enough to warrant making any kind of conclusion.

Second, study was not double blind, as any respected study must be. People knew when they were getting acupuncture. They didn’t even bother using fake acupuncture to try to control for the placebo effect. On the other hand the sample size was so small that such a thing would probably be impractical, which in my eyes makes this whole study impractical.

Like any other treatment, acupuncture does not work for everyone, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for many,” said study co-author Dr Barrie Cassileth, Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at MSKCC.

“It does not treat illness, but acupuncture can control a number of distressing symptoms, such as shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue, pain, neuropathy, and osteoarthritis,” she added.

I don’t quite know what they mean when they say “like any other treatment it doesn’t work for everyone”. Generally, if you are in pain a morphine treatment works, unless there is something seriously wrong with your body. I can understand that there will be exceptions, that it won’t work 100% of the time, but does 39% really warrant such a conclusion? Something in my skeptical brain is screaming foul right about now.

Thirdly, there is always a problem with subjective reporting of “less” versus “no less” pain. Is it significantly less pain, or probably less pain. How much less are we talking about? Unfortunately, pain can’t be measured and it’s hard to quantify properly for this kind of study. Unless there was a significant reduction in pain I don’t see how that can be used to support the conclusion.

What I mean is that if someone says “My pain has almost completely gone away, I can barely feel it now, whereas it was hurting like hell before” is very different from saying “on a scale from 1 to 10 my pain went from a 9 to an 8 or 7”. The second one is not reliable, especially given the placebo effect which this study failed to control for miserably.

CONCLUSION: THIS STUDY IS A FLAWED ONE THAT CANNOT AND DOES NOT SHOW THAT ACCUPUNCUTURE WORKS IN THE INSTANCES THAT WERE STUDIED.

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June 4, 2008 - Posted by | Critical Thinking, Science, Thinking Out Loud | ,

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