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 first-of-its-kind study presented September 24, 2008, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting in Boston.
Findings also 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 patients who underwent drug treatment for their hot flashes.
More Durable Than Drug Effect
“Our study shows that physicians and patients have an additional therapy for something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors and actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects. The effect is more durable than a drug commonly used to treat these vasomotor symptoms and, ultimately, is more cost-effective for insurance companies,” Eleanor Walker, md, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Henry Ford Hospital Department of Radiation Oncology in Detroit, said.
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 80% of women treated for breast cancer suffer from hot flashes after being treated with chemotherapy and/or antiestrogen hormones, such as tamoxifen and anastrozole (Arimidex). Although hormone replacement therapy 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. As a treatment alternative, patients are generally treated with steroids and/or antidepressant drugs. These drugs, however, have additional side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, constipation, and fatigue.
Acupuncture vs Venlafaxine
The antidepressant venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor, is one of the most common drugs used to treat these 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 simply do not want to take any more medications.
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 investigation involved 47 breast cancer patients who received either tamoxifen or anastrozole and had at least 14 hot flashes per week. Results of the trial show that acupuncture reduces hot flashes as effectively as venlafaxine, with no side effects. In addition, acupuncture provides additional health benefits to patients.