One of the major side effects of breast cancer treatment is extreme fatigue and exhaustion, which often disrupts a person's ability to perform daily tasks.

A third of breast cancer patients experience moderate to severe fatigue up to 10 years after the end of their treatments, experts say. Because of this, countless studies have attempted to find an effective method of alleviating such fatigue.

For instance, a study in 2014 found that doing yoga could help cut fatigue and inflammation linked with breast cancer treatment. Participants in the study had reported a 41 percent decrease in fatigue.

Now, a new report suggests that another plausible method: a targeted massage therapy called "acupressure" may also help alleviate extreme exhaustion among breast cancer patients.

How Does Acupressure Work?

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture — both methods target specific points in the body. The difference is that acupressure does not require the use of needles. Instead, pressure is applied to those specific body points with thumbs, fingers or other devices.

Can Acupressure Cut Fatigue?

Researchers from the University of Michigan asked 424 breast cancer survivors to participate in a randomized study.

Some of the participants received relaxing acupressure, which targets relaxation points; stimulating acupressure, which aims to increase energy; or the usual post-treatment care. The last one often involves sleep-management techniques.

The women who received relaxation and stimulating acupressure were taught to perform their own acupressure. These women were instructed to apply pressure in a circular motion for about three minutes each day for six weeks.

Results Of The Study

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 indicating the highest level of fatigue, the study participants had an average score of five.

In the end, participants who received acupressure reported lesser fatigue compared those who received normal care from doctors.

Indeed, after six weeks, about 61 percent of those in the stimulating acupressure group and 66 percent of women in the relaxing acupressure group displayed fatigue scores of less than four, which is considered normal.

On the other hand, only 31 percent of the usual care group showed the same fatigue score.

Four weeks later, the researchers found that 61 percent of the patients in the stimulating group and 56 percent of the women in the relaxing group still had normal fatigue scores, compared to 30 percent in the usual care group.

While both types of acupressure did not outperform one another, researchers found that the relaxing method leads to improved sleep quality compared to its counterpart.

Hope For Breast Cancer Patients

Suzanna Zick, lead author of the study, says acupressure is a low-cost, low-risk and easy-to-perform intervention that can help many breast cancer survivors.

However, the study still has some caveats: two of the participants experienced bruises from acupressure, while one dropped out of the study entirely. About 12 percent of the women also stopped acupressure because they considered it time consuming.

Still, Zick and her colleagues hope to publish a report that investigates how the brain reacts to acupressure. They also want to find out whether applying pressure for only one minute can lead to similar but less time-consuming results.

Additionally, they are also working on an app that can teach people to use acupressure.

"Hopefully it will be something that's easily accessible to use in the future," adds Zick.

Details of the new study are published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Photo: Nick Webb | Flickr

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