Could Acupuncture Alleviate Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment?

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Research has been carried out by the National Cancer Institute (2018) that suggests that acupuncture may reduce treatment-related joint pain, caused by aromatase inhibitors, for breast cancer patients.

Aromatase inhibitors are commonly taken by hormone receptor positive early breast cancer patients, after they’ve had surgery. This is to reduce the risk of the cancer reoccurring, as it relies on estrogenic for tumour growth. Around 50% of patients undergoing this treatment report joint pan or stiffness, with around half of these patients reporting the pain as ‘severe’.

Small studies into whether the side effects of aromatase inhibitors can be relieved by acupuncture have found mixed results. There have also been issues in the generalisability of previous studies, due to the sample used in the experiment.

The current study adopted a multisite trial, studying patients from general oncology practices, as well as patients from university medical centres. All 226 participants, across 11 sites were all taking a third gen aromatase inhibitor and received either: treatment, placebo treatment (sham acupuncture – shallow insertions in non-acupuncture points, using short needles), or not treatment.

Half received treatment, then 25% received placebo treatment and 25% received no treatment, twice a week for six weeks. The women were studies over 12 weeks, following the treatment.

After six weeks, the treatment group reported a significantly reduced level of the worst pain, which was maintained after 12 weeks and reported less overall pain than women in either of the control groups at 24 weeks. However, both control groups did show an improvement in reported pain, the researchers where not sure why this was.





Image Source: Jaap Buijs