Monday, September 22, 2008

Does acupuncture help with breast cancer?

Acupuncture is as effective and longer lasting in managing the common debilitating side effects of hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating (vasomotor symptoms) associated with breast cancer treatment and has no treatment side effects compared to conventional drug therapy, according to a study presented at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) Meeting in Boston.

The findings show there were additional benefits to acupuncture treatment for breast cancer patients, such as an increased sense of well being, more energy, and in some cases, a higher sex drive, that were not experienced in those patients who underwent drug treatment for their hot flashes.

The reduction in hot flashes lasted longer for those breast cancer patients after completing their acupuncture treatment, compared to patients after stopping their drug therapy plan.

Approximately eighty percent of women treated for breast cancer suffer from hot flashes after being treated with chemotherapy and/or anti-estrogen hormones, such as tamoxifen and Arimidex. Although HRT is typically used to relieve these symptoms, breast cancer patients cannot use this therapy because it may increase the risk of the cancer coming back.

Patients are often treated with steroids and/or antidepressant drugs instead. These drugs, however, have additional side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, constipation and fatigue. The antidepressant, venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is one of the most common drugs used to treat hot flashes. However, many women decide against this treatment choice because of potential side effects, including decreased libido, insomnia, dizziness and nausea, or because they do not want to take any additional medications.

At ASTRO, the randomized clinical trial compared acupuncture treatment to venlafaxine for 12 weeks to find out if acupuncture reduced vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving hormonal therapy and produced fewer side effects than venlafaxine. The study included 47 breast cancer patients who received either tamoxifen or Arimidex and had at least 14 hot flashes per week.

Overall, the results demonstrated that acupuncture reduces hot flashes as effectively as venlafaxine, with no side effects, and also provides additional health benefits to patients. This approach, although unusual, offers a safe and effective option for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

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