Infrared laser moxibustion, an infrared laser treatment combined with a traditional acupuncture modality, appears safe and effective in relieving cancer-related fatigue, a study published in Cancer has shown.1

Cancer-related fatigue is a common adverse effect of cancer or cancer therapy. Forty-six percent to 96% of patients experience this devastating effect, and it persists beyond the end of treatment in at least 25% of patients.

Clinical treatments that satisfactorily relieve cancer-related fatigue are lacking, and patients express interest in numerous nondrug alternative treatments such as acupuncture and other complementary and integrative medicine practices. Because fatigue has a negative impact on quality of life for patients with cancer, these researchers sought to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of 10.6-µm infrafred laser moxibustion on cancer-related fatigue in Chinese patients with cancer.

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Moxibustion is a traditional acupuncture modality that follows the same theoretical framework as acupuncture, except that it uses thermal stimulation instead of needles. It involves burning moxa (the herb Artemisia vulgaris) on or above the skin at acupoints. Warming the acupoints alleviates the symptoms.

For this placebo-controlled trial, 78 cancer patients with cancer-related fatigue were randomized to the treatment group or the sham group. The treatment group received 10.6 µm infrared laser moxibustion on the ST36 (bilateral), CV4, and CV6 acupoints in 20-minute sessions 3 times per week for 4 weeks. The sham group received the same treatment duration and acupoints, except these patients did not receive infrared laser output.

Primary outcome was change in fatigue as measured by the Chinese version of the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI-C) at week 4. An additional evaluation for durability of treatment was conducted 4 weeks after completion of the study.

The entire study was completed by 61 patients (78%). Results showed fatigue was significantly less in the patients who received the laser treatment compared with those in the sham group (3.01 vs 4.40; P =.002). In addition, the evaluation conducted at week 8 showed continued improvement in fatigue. In terms of safety, 3 patients experienced mild local erythema that resolved without medical intervention.

Infrared laser moxibustion was safe and effectively relieved cancer-related fatigue in Chinese patients; however, the researchers note larger studies with more racial/ethnically diverse study populations are needed to validate these findings.


1. Mao H, Mao JJ, Guo M, et al. Effects of infrared laser moxibustion on cancer-related fatigue: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Cancer. 2016 Aug 6. doi:10.1002/cncr.30189.