The researchers of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found acupuncture to be highly effective in controlling hot flashes in breast cancer patients who are treated with estrogen-suppressing therapies.
Breast cancer patients commonly experience symptoms like hot flashes after treatments that suppress female hormone estrogen. Theoretically, hormone replacement therapy might be used to reduce these symptoms. But estrogen increases the risk of cancer recurrence which is not a viable option. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published the relevant study results.
An associate professor of the department of community health and family medicine, Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, stated that hot flashes are commonly associated with menopause, however these symptoms may also occur in breast cancer patients who incur early menopause due to surgery or chemotherapy and consequent low levels of estrogen.
Acupuncture was known to be effective in reducing the joint pain of breast cancer survivors. However, a recent study suggests its additional role in controlling hot flashes in the same patient group.
Hot flashes are temporary feelings of heat flowing from the trunk towards the head, palpitation, and sweating. Although the exact cause of hot flashes is unknown, these are invariably associated with low estrogen levels.
A total of 120 breast cancer patients completing conventional treatments participated in the study. They were experiencing moderate to severe hot flashes. Four different types of interventions were selected for these patients after distributing them randomly into four groups to compare the effects of a special acupuncture technique called electro-acupuncture (delivering weak electric current through embedded needles) and gabapentin, an antiepileptic medication in reducing the severity of hot flashes.
The four groups were given the following therapies for eight weeks:
- Electro acupuncture: Initially twice a week for two weeks, then once weekly
- “sham” electro acupuncture (without needing needle prick or electricity)
- Daily 900mg of gabapentin
- Gabapentin placebo
After the test period (8 weeks), the measurement of the severity and frequency of hot flashes, the Hot flash composite score(HFCS) was least in the electro-acupuncture group. The “sham” electro-acupuncture group also demonstrated some improvements.
Adverse effects experienced by patients consuming gabapentin were also absent in the acupuncture groups.
After completion of this eight weeks trial, the Penn researchers observed the participants for another 16 weeks. They noticed that the effects of acupuncture were longer lasting than gabapentin and placebo when it comes to control over hot flashes. Effects of gabapentin and placebo were minimal, and there was worsening of hot flashes after stopping gabapentin consumption.
The age-old acupuncture technique works by elevating the levels of endorphins which in turn stimulate the release of pain killing and mood elevating chemicals.
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References: Acupuncture reduces hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, September 3, 2015