Category Archives: Quality Of LIfe

Comparison of Acupuncture and Therapy as Treatments for Cancer Survivors with Insomnia

Meg Seymour, PhD and Nina Zeldes, PhD, National Center for Health Research

Most cancer patients experience insomnia,[1] which is defined as having trouble falling and/or staying asleep. Most cancer patients with insomnia are prescribed sleep-aid medications as treatment,[2] which can have unpleasant side effects, such as memory problems and health risks.[3]  In fact, studies show that people who take sleep medication more often are more likely to develop many types of cancer (You can read this article for more information). Fortunately, in 2019, cancer researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering found that there are safer and possibly more effective treatments for cancer patients’ insomnia: acupuncture, as well as a type of  therapy specifically developed for treating insomnia, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese treatment where a trained acupuncturist places special needles into the skin at specific points at the body, which are associated with different aspects of health. There are certain places on the body that acupuncturists place needles in order to treat sleep problems, as well as pain.

CBT-I is a type of therapy that uses several different approaches to treat insomnia. It uses methods such as “cognitive restructuring,” which trains patients to reduce anxious thoughts in ways that make it easier to fall asleep. Another strategy is “sleep restriction,” in which patients primarily stay in bed for sleeping, not for watching TV, reading, or other activities. The goal is to associate being in bed with sleeping, not thinking about issues that can interfere with sleeping.

Comparing acupuncture and therapy as insomnia treatments

Acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy had previously been proven effective for insomnia. For example, CBT-I had previously been shown to reduce insomnia among cancer survivors,[5] and acupuncture has been found to be effective for insomnia patients without cancer.[6] The goal of the 2019 study was to compare these two treatments for insomnia among cancer survivors, to determine which was more effective. 

The study compared the two treatments in 160 cancer survivors whose insomnia was severe enough that they were diagnosed with insomnia. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 10 sessions of acupuncture treatment over 8 weeks, or 7 sessions of CBT-I over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers measured the severity of the participants’ insomnia, as well as other symptoms such as pain and anxiety. Participants’ symptoms were measured before they began treatment, right after completing the 8 weeks of treatment, and every four weeks up to 20 weeks after they finished the treatment. Measuring symptoms at these different times compared how effective the treatments were in both the short-term and the long-term.

Which treatment was most effective? 

The researchers found that both treatments were effective at reducing insomnia, and they also helped patients reduce their use of sleep aids, even at 20 weeks after finishing treatment. About 25% of patients were using at least one prescription sleep aid at the beginning of the study, but only 17% used the medication 20 weeks after treatment. CBT-I was slightly more effective than acupuncture at reducing insomnia symptoms and improving overall sleep quality, as well as reducing the amount of time it took to fall asleep and reducing the number of times participants woke up in the night. 

Twenty weeks after completing treatment with CBT-I, participants fell asleep an average of 24 minutes faster, and those who received acupuncture fell asleep an average of 11 minutes faster than before they started treatment. That might not seem like much benefit, but it is comparable to the small benefit of sleeping pills.[7] After treatment, both groups stayed asleep for longer at night. However, those who received acupuncture stayed asleep even longer than those who received CBT-I. Right after completing treatment, participants who had acupuncture treatment slept for an average of 62 more minutes a night, 27 more minutes than those who were treated with CBT-I. After 20 weeks, those who received acupuncture still slept 51 minutes more than before treatment, which was 5 and a half minutes more than those treated with CBT-I. That is much more additional sleep than is typical of sleeping pills.[7]

However, this difference in the effectiveness of the two treatments was only true for men. The two treatments were equally effective at reducing overall insomnia severity in women. The researchers also found that CBT-I was only more effective among White participants, highly educated participants, and those with lower pain levels. Otherwise, the two treatments were equally effective. 

In addition to evaluating insomnia severity, the researchers also measured participants’ fatigue, anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life as measured by mental and physical health. The two treatments were equally effective at improving those symptoms.

The bottom line

Both acupuncture and CBT-I helped reduce insomnia symptoms in cancer survivors, but CBT-I was more effective for men, Whites, highly educated participants, and those with lower pain levels. The researchers concluded that CBT-I should be used as the first line of treatment for cancer-related insomnia, but pointed out that patients might find it difficult to find CBT-I treatment. Unfortunately, there are few trained CBT-I therapists, but acupuncture is a good alternative. In addition, acupuncture was more effective for the treatment of short-term pain than CBT-I. 

Despite the shortage of well-trained CBT-I therapists, the availability of online therapy can help those who are interested get access to this treatment. For more information on online therapy, you can read this article. 


All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

The National Center for Health Research is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research, education and advocacy organization that analyzes and explains the latest medical research and speaks out on policies and programs. We do not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies or medical device manufacturers. Find out how you can support us here.



  1.     Savard J, Ivers H, Villa J, et al. Natural course of insomnia comorbid with cancer: an 18 month longitudinal study. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2011; 29(26):3580–3586.
  2.     Berger AM, Matthews EE, Kenkel AM. Management of sleep-wake disturbances comorbid with cancer. Oncology. 2017 Aug 16;31(8).
  3.     Kripke DF. Hypnotic drug risks of mortality, infection, depression, and cancer: But lack of benefit. F1000Res. 2016;5:918.
  4.     Garland SN, Xie SX, DuHamel K, Bao T, Li Q, Barg FK, Song S, Kantoff P, Gehrman P, Mao JJ. Acupuncture versus cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia in cancer survivors: a randomized clinical trial. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2019; 111(12):1323-31.
  5.     Johnson JA, Rash JA, Campbell TS, et al. A systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) in cancer survivors. Sleep Medicine Review. 2016;27:20–28.
  6.     Yin X, Gou M, Xu J, et al. Efficacy and safety of acupuncture treatment on primary insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. Sleep Medicine. 2017;37:193–200.
  7. Carr, T. The Problem With Sleeping Pills. Consumer Updated December 2018.

How to Report Problems With Medical Products to the FDA

National Center for Health Research.

Every year, tens of thousands of consumers suspect that their medicines or medical devices might be causing unexpected side effects. Side effects – also called adverse reactions – can be quite minor, such as a rash or stomach upset, or very serious, such as mental confusion, heart damage or an autoimmune reaction. It is sometimes difficult to tell if the health problem is caused by the medical product or is merely a coincidence. That is why serious problems that are possibly related to a medical product should be reported to your physician and to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You do not have to be certain that the health problem is caused by the medical product – the purpose of a tracking program is to figure out if there is a problem by looking for a pattern in the reports. By tracking these reports, the FDA can determine if there is a pattern that may indicate the need to warn consumers or even to withdraw a product from the market.

The FDA has a program called MedWatch for reporting serious reactions and problems with medical products, including drugs and implanted devices.

The process is relatively simple and is outlined on the MedWatch website. You may ask your doctor to fill out a MedWatch form detailing the problem you have been experiencing. The MedWatch form is available online or you or your doctor can request a copy of the form by calling the FDA toll free at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).

If for some reason you do not wish to have the form filled out by your doctor or your doctor refuses to fill out the form (doctors are not required by law to complete a report to the FDA), then you can complete the form yourself. MedWatch provides a set of instructions for completing the form on their website, as well as an online form that you can submit on the website.

If you prefer to report your problem over the telephone, you can do that by calling the at 1-800-FDA-1088.

If you have questions or comments about a specific drug or medical device, you can call the FDA toll free information number at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332), press 2, followed by 1 for information, then:

  • for dietary supplements, press 2
  • for drug products, press 3
  • for medical devices, press 4
  • for biologics, including human cells, tissues and cellular and tissue-based products, press 6

Reporting problems helps fix them and ensure that other patients do not experience the same unexpected side effects or reactions.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

The Benefits of Exercise After Getting Diagnosed with Cancer

Morgan Wharton and Annika Schmid, Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund

You may have heard that regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing cancer, but did you know it’s also good for cancer patients who are undergoing or have completed treatment?

Is Exercise Good for Everyone Diagnosed with Cancer?

Exercise has proven benefits for cancer patients, ranging from improved fitness and higher quality of life to reduced rates of recurrence and a longer life.[1-9] What we know about exercise and cancer mostly comes from studying patients with breast or colon cancer, but there’s reason to believe that there are benefits of exercise for men and women suffering from all types of cancer, even cancer as advanced as Stage III.[3, 7]

The best news of all: It doesn’t matter if you were fit before you got diagnosed. Whether or not you exercised before has no bearing on what exercise can do for you during and after treatment.[3, 4, 6] So, it’s never too late to use exercise to fight cancer. If you’re coping with cancer or its aftermath, now is the time.

What Does the Science Show about Exercise for Cancer Patients?

Many studies have shown that exercise is beneficial to cancer patients, but no one is sure exactly why. Earlier studies suggested that exercise may help women avoid breast cancer or a recurrence of it by decreasing female hormones that feed cancer in the breast,[10-11] or by lowering inflammation in the body,[12] a suspected contributor to many diseases. In 2014, a study was published that provides a new possible explanation for how exercise helps the body fight cancer.[13] Researchers looked at irisin, a protein released from muscles after exercise, to see how it would affect breast cancer cells and healthy breast cells in test tubes. What they found was that when breast cancer cells came into contact with irisin, they started to self-destruct in a programmed way. While the exercise protein reduced the number of malignant cells and their ability to move around, it left the healthy cells unharmed! The researchers also found that irisin made Doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug commonly given to breast cancer patients, more effective at killing cancer cells. Though this study did not look at what happens to cancer cells in actual patients after they exercise, it could help explain why other studies have found that cancer patients who are physically active feel better during treatment and are less likely to have their cancer come back.

A study from 2020 found that exercise is beneficial for preventing cancer deaths. It examined how active people were per day, and found that people who were more active were less likely to die from cancer by a follow-up 6 years later.[14] However, the study did not include people who were undergoing cancer treatment when the study was measuring physical activity, which makes sense since cancer treatment can drastically reduce the ability to exercise. This means that the results of the study are not specifically about people undergoing cancer treatment.

Studies that did look at patients focused on those beginning exercise (such as walking or aerobic exercise with weight training) somewhere between 2 weeks and 1 year after completing cancer treatment. In these studies, treatment could include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these therapies.[1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8] Some studies also examined the effects of exercise during cancer treatment.[5, 9]

Less Body Fat and Better Immune System:

Studies have shown that in cancer patients, exercise during or after treatment reduces fat and improves body mass index (BMI).[2, 6, 9] Exercise lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, and increases bone mineral density.[6, 8, 9] Denser bones means fewer fractures.

Improved Fitness:

As expected, cancer patients who exercise regularly during and after treatment reported increases in strength, walking ability, aerobic capacity, and flexibility.[2, 6, 9]

Less Fatigue and Fewer Side Effects from Treatment:

Cancer patients who had completed treatment reported fewer negative side effects from treatment once they began to exercise regularly.[7] Patients who exercised during treatment reported less nausea and less difficulty sleeping.[9] The most commonly reported improvement was reduced fatigue. [6, 8, 9] In addition, a study published in 2021 indicates that exercise may also help relieve “chemo brain” (also known as chemo fog), which is a common side effect for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.[15] Common symptoms of chemo brain are having trouble with learning new tasks, remembering names, paying attention, and concentrating. The study found that patients who did either 2.5-5 hours of moderate intensity exercise (like brisk walking) per week or who did 1.5-2.5 hours of high intensity exercise (such as running) per week in the week before starting chemotherapy, within 1 month of completing chemotherapy, and 6 months after completing chemotherapy were less likely to report “chemo brain” symptoms than patients who did not exercise. Chemo brain can be upsetting and debilitating, affecting more than 75% of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example. 

Better Quality of Life:

In addition to the physical health benefits of exercise, cancer patients who exercised also reported improved mental and emotional well-being.[2] Patients who exercised during treatment and those who began to exercise afterwards frequently reported an increase in quality of life.[9] Patients who began to exercise regularly after treatment experienced less anxiety and a renewed “fighting spirit.”[9] Cancer patients over the age of 80 who exercised regularly during their weeks or months of treatment reported less loss of memory.[5]

Reducing Cancer Recurrence and Other Benefits for Survivors:

Because exercise improves the immune system, cancer patients who exercise regularly lower their risk of the cancer returning.[1, 2, 3, 8] Patients who exercise are less likely to die from cancer and are more likely to live longer than patients who don’t exercise.[14]

A 2022 study found that cancer survivors who exercise and do not sit 8 or more hours a day live longer than less active cancer survivors.[16] The study followed over 1,500 cancer survivors ages 40 and over for an average of 4.5 years.  The researchers found that those who exercised at least 150 minutes per week were less likely to die (of cancer or anything else) than people who did not report exercising. Survivors who reported sitting for more than 8 hours a day were also more likely to die than those who reported sitting less than 4 hours per day, and survivors who reported both a lack of exercise and sitting more than 8 hours per day were the most likely to die of all the survivors studied. The researchers recommend that cancer survivors stay active, by exercising 150-300 minutes per week and by standing and moving as much as possible, rather than sitting.

What Kind of Exercise Should I Do?

Aerobic activity of light to moderate intensity was the most common type of exercise in the studies of cancer patients.[2, 3, 6, 8, 9] Combining aerobic exercise with walking and resistance training (such as weight lifting or using resistance bands) led to greater health benefits than aerobic activity alone.[2, 6, 8] 

Most studies used Metabolic Equivalent (MET) hours to measure physical activity by level of intensity. MET hours measure the energy output of various activities compared to the energy used by the body when at rest. Activities that require more effort have a higher MET score than activities with lower intensities. One study suggested that 18-27 MET hours per week represents the ideal rate of exercise, because that group showed the lowest rate of recurrence and more activity did not lead to increased benefits.[7] Having a MET score comparable to 6 or more hours of walking in a week showed a 47% higher chance of survival without recurrence.[3] Click here for a chart of various activities and their MET hour equivalent, so you can calculate your weekly exercise in MET hours and maximize your benefits from exercise.

Walking can improve the health of cancer patients. Studies estimate that the greatest benefit from walking is seen in patients who walk at an average speed(a 20 minute mile) for 3-5 hours weekly.[7] Patients who walked just 1 hour per week, regardless of walking speed, showed improvements over the group of patients who reported no physical activity in a week.[7]

To get the most out of exercise, you need to make it a habit—something you commit to for the long-term. That’s why it is better to start small, with easily achievable changes like using the stairs regularly instead of the elevator or walking each evening after dinner. Remember not to set unrealistic goals, because it is better to start small and keep it up than to try to do too much and give up. Don’t miss the chance to get at least some benefit from this easy, free strategy to fight cancer.

The Bottom Line

Exercise helps individuals who are undergoing cancer treatment and those who have completed cancer treatment. Cancer patients who exercise regularly during and after treatment can expect fewer side-effects from treatment, including less fatigue, fewer problems with concentration and memory, and better overall fitness and health. Patients who exercise are less likely to experience a return of cancer in the future and are more likely to live longer, healthier lives.

You should try to walk at least six hours a week at an average pace (about 1 mile per 20 minutes).

Even minimum exercise, like walking one hour per week, can improve the health of cancer patients who have completed treatment, compared to cancer patients who do not exercise at all. The benefits from exercise can be seen in all cancer patients, regardless of whether or not they exercised regularly before they were diagnosed with cancer. It’s never too late to begin to exercise and improve your health!


  1. Barbara Sternfeld, E.W., Charles P. Quesenberry, Jr., Adrienne L. Castillo, Marilyn Kwan, Martha L. Slattery, and Bette J. Caan, Physical activity and risk of recurrence and mortality in breast cancer survivors: Findings from the LACE study. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 2009. 18(1): p. 87-95.
  2. Daniel Y T Fong, J.W.C.H., Bryant P H Hui, Antoinette M Lee, Duncan J Macfarlane, Sharron S K Leung, Ester Cerin, Wynnie Y Y Chan, Ivy P F Leung, Sharon H S Lam, Aliki J Taylor, Kar-keung Cheng, Physical activity for cancer survivors: Meta analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Medical Journal, 2012. 344(70).
  3. Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, D.H., Donna Niedzwiecki, Donna Hollis, Leonard B. Satz, Robert J. Mayer, James Thomas, Heidi Nelson, Renaud Whittom, Alexander Hantel, Richard L. Schilsky, and Charles S. Fuchs, Impact of physical activity on cancer recurrence and survival in patients with stage III colon cancer: Findings from CALGB 89803. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2006. 24(22): p. 3635-3541.
  4. Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, E.L.G., Michelle D. Holmes, Andrew T. Chan, Jennifer A. Chan, Graham A. Colditz, and Charles S. Fuchs, Physical activity and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2006. 24(22): p. 3527-3534.
  5. LK Sprod, S.M., W Demark-Wahnefried, MC Janelsins, LJ Peppone, GR Morrow, R Lord, H Gross, KM Mustian, Exercise and cancer treatment symptoms in 408 newly diagnosed older cancer patients. Journal of Geriatric Oncology, 2012. 3(2): p. 90-97.
  6. Margaret L. McNeely, K.L.C., Brian H. Rowe, Terry P. Klassen, John R. Mackey, Kerry S. Courneya, Effects of exercise on breast cancer patients and survivors: A systematic review and meta analysis. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2006. 175(1): p. 34-41.
  7. Michelle D. Holmes, W.Y.C., Diane Fesknich, Candyce H. Kroenke, Graham A. Colditz, Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005. 293(20): p. 2479-2486.
  8. Rosalind R. Spence, K.C.H., Wendy J. Brown, Exercise and cancer rehabilitation: A systematic review. Cancer Treatment Reviews, 2009. 36: p. 185-194.
  9. Ruud Knols, N.K.A., Daniel Uebelhart, Jaap Fransen, and Geert Aufdemkampe, Physical exercise in cancer patients during and after medical treatment: A systematic review of randomized and controlled clinical trials. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2005. 23(16): p. 3830-3842.
  10. Key T, Appleby P, Barnes I, Reeves G. Endogenous sex hormones and breast cancer in postmenopausal women: reanalysis of nine prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. Apr 17 2002;94(8):606-616.
  11. McTiernan A, Tworoger SS, Ulrich CM, et al. Effect of exercise on serum estrogens in postmenopausal women: a 12-month randomized clinical trial. Cancer Res. Apr 15 2004;64(8):2923-2928.
  12. Friedenreich CM, Neilson HK, Woolcott CG, et al. Inflammatory Marker Changes in a Yearlong Randomized Exercise Intervention Trial among Postmenopausal Women. Cancer Prevention Research. January 1, 2012 2012;5(1):98-108.
  13. Gannon NP, Vaughan RA, Garcia-Smith R, Bisoffi M, Trujillo KA. Effects of the exercise-inducible myokine irisin on malignant and non-malignant breast epithelial cell behavior in vitro. Int J Cancer. Feb 15 2015;136(4):E197-202.
  14.  Gilchrist SC, Howard VJ, Akinyemiju T, Judd SE, Cushman M, Hooker SP, Diaz KM. Association of Sedentary Behavior With Cancer Mortality in Middle-aged and Older US Adults. JAMA Oncology. 2020;6(8):1210–1217.
  15. Elizabeth A. Salerno, Eva Culakova, Amber S. Kleckner, Charles E. Heckler, Po-Ju Lin, Charles E Matthews, Alison Conlin, Lora Weiselberg, Jerry Mitchell, Karen M. Mustian, Michelle C. Janelsins. Physical Activity Patterns and Relationships With Cognitive Function in Patients With Breast Cancer Before, During, and After Chemotherapy in a Prospective, Nationwide Study. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2021. 
  16. Cao, C, Friedenreich, CM and Yang L. Association of Daily Sitting Time and Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Survival Among US Cancer Survivors
    JAMA Oncology, January 6, 2022 online,