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Like any therapy, acupuncture is effective for some patients, while not helpful for others. Understanding from a patients' perspective what makes one respond or not to acupuncture can help guide further intervention development. This study aimed to identify factors that influence the perception of acupuncture's therapeutic effect among cancer survivors with insomnia.
We conducted post-treatment semi-structured interviews with cancer survivors who were randomized to the acupuncture group in a clinical trial for the treatment of insomnia. Survivors were categorized into Responders and Non-Responders to acupuncture treatment based on the change in the Insomnia Severity Index with a reduction of eight points or greater as the cut-off for the response. An integrated approach to data analysis was utilized by merging an a priori set of codes derived from the key ideas and a set of codes that emerged from the data through a grounded theory approach. Codes were examined for themes and patterns.
Among 28 cancer survivors interviewed, 18 (64%) were classified as Responders. Participants perceived the ability to respond to acupuncture as dependent on treatment that effectively: (1) alleviated co-morbidities contributing to insomnia, (2) supported sleep hygiene practices, and (3) provided a durable therapeutic effect. Acupuncture treatment that did not address one of these themes often detracted from positive treatment outcomes and diminished perceived benefit from acupuncture.
Significance of results
We identified patient-perceived contributors to response to acupuncture, such as co-morbid medical conditions, adequate support for sleep hygiene practices, and temporary therapeutic relief. Addressing these factors may improve the overall effectiveness of acupuncture for insomnia.
Insomnia is underrecognized and inadequately managed, with close to 60% of cancer survivors experiencing insomnia at some point in the treatment trajectory. The objective of this study was to further understand predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors in the development and maintenance of insomnia in cancer survivors.
A heterogeneous sample of 63 patients who had completed active treatment was recruited. Participants were required to have a score >7 on the Insomnia Severity Index and meet the diagnostic criteria for insomnia disorder. Open-ended, semistructured interviews were conducted to elicit participants’ experiences with sleep problems. An a priori set of codes and a set of codes that emerged from the data were used to analyze the data.
The mean age of the sample was 60.5 years, with 30% identifying as non-white and 59% reporting their sex as female. The cancer types represented were heterogeneous with the two most common being breast (30%) and prostate (21%). Participants described an inherited risk for insomnia, anxious temperament, and insufficient ability to relax as predisposing factors. Respondents were split as to whether they classified their cancer diagnosis as the precipitating factor for their insomnia. Participants reported several behaviors that are known to perpetuate problems with sleep including napping, using back-lit electronics before bed, and poor sleep hygiene. One of the most prominent themes identified was the use of sleeping medications. Participants reported that they were reluctant to take medication but felt that it was the only option to treat their insomnia and that it was encouraged by their doctors.
Significance of results
Insomnia is a prevalent, but highly treatable, disorder in cancer survivors. Patients and provider education is needed to change individual and organizational behaviors that contribute to the development and maintenance of insomnia and increase access to evidence-based nonpharmacological interventions.
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