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Methods to Standardize a Multicenter Acupuncture Trial Protocol

Robust methods are needed to efficiently conduct large, multi-site, randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture protocols. SWOG S1200 is a randomized, controlled sham- and waitlist-controlled trial of a standardized acupuncture protocol treating aromatase inhibitor (AI)-associated arthralgias in early stage breast cancer patients (n=228). The primary objective is to determine whether true acupuncture administered twice weekly for 6 weeks compared to sham acupuncture or a waitlist control causes a reduction in AI-associated joint pain at 6 weeks as assessed by patient report. The study is conducted at 11 institutions across the US. The true acupuncture protocol was developed using a consensus-based process. Both the true acupuncture and sham acupuncture protocols consist of 12 sessions administered over 6 weeks, followed by 1 session per week for the remaining 6 weeks. The true acupuncture protocol uses standardized protocol points in addition to standardized acupoints tailored to a patient’s joint symptoms. The similarly standardized sham acupuncture protocol utilizes superficial needling of non-acupoints. Standardized methods were developed to train and monitor acupuncturists, including online and in-person training, study manuals, monthly phone calls, and remote quality assurance monitoring throughout the study period. Research staff was similarly trained using online and in-person training, and monthly phone calls.

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