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Acupuncture Shown to Aid Those Undergoing Breast Cancer Treatment
Posted: January 19, 2010
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Many women with breast cancer receive anti-estrogen hormone therapy, usually for as long as five years, in addition to other treatments. Although hormone therapy is effective in reducing tumor recurrence, it does cause hot flashes and night sweats. The antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) is the most commonly used therapy for relieving these symptoms, but the drug brings its own problems, namely dry mouth, reduced appetite, nausea and constipation. "We need something that's accessible that doesn't add adverse effects," Walker said.
For this study, 50 women with breast cancer were randomly assigned to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture (twice a week for four weeks then once a week) or daily Effexor. They were followed for a year.
Initially, both groups of women experienced similar reductions (about 50%) in hot flashes and depression, with an overall improvement in quality of life. But the acupuncture benefits were longer lived. Two weeks out, women taking the antidepressant saw a resurgence in hot flashes while women in the acupuncture arm continued to have far fewer problems. About 25% of women receiving acupuncture also reported more interest in sex while many also reported more energy and clearer thinking.
How might acupuncture work its magic? One expert had a theory. Acupuncture operates as a balancing mechanism, said Janet Konefal, a licensed acupuncturist and assistant dean of complementary and integrative medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "It is a regulator for the systems of the body," she explained. "It doesn't add or take anything—it simply increases activity or decreases activity depending upon the points used. In this situation, it helped regulate the endocrine system, thus helping to balance the activity of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other biochemical reactions that regulate the body."
However, getting access to the treatment can be problematic, Walker said. "The issue most of the time is the cost of it and whether insurance companies will pay for it," she said. Additional studies also need to look at how often women would need booster acupuncture to minimize their symptoms.