Acupuncture and Breast Cancer – Hot Flashes

The following is a report from BREASTCANCER.ORG and Oncology Nursing News

Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effect – Hot Flash

One of the biggest complaints of patients being treated for breast cancer is treatment-related hot flashes. For women without cancer, hot flashes are often treated with estrogen products; however, for breast cancer patients, these products are contraindicated because of their potential to increase the risk of cancer’s return. Megestrol acetate (Megace®) is also commonly used, but this drug causes weight gain, which is an understandably unpopular side effect for many women. The drug most commonly used for hot flashes is Effexor, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor/antidepressant, but this too has associated side effects—namely sexual dysfunction and nausea— that require taking yet more pills. But new research finds that some side effects of breast cancer-related treatments may be handled by acupuncture treatment that is effective, much less debilitating, with fewer side effects and more durable compared to drug therapy.

Clinical Trial Effexor vs Acupuncture

In this randomized clinical trial, Dr Walker, director of breast radiation oncology in the Henry Ford Health System, and colleagues examined the effect of acupuncture or Effexor on hot flashes in breast cancer patients (Stages 0-III) who had been receiving either tamoxifen or Arimidex and who had been having at least 14 hot flashes per week.

Patients in both the acupuncture group and the Effexor group had significant decreases in hot flashes, other menopausal symptoms, and depressive symptoms. Thus, acupuncture was found to be at least as effective as venlafaxine in reducing vasomotor and other symptoms associated with anti-estrogen hormonal treatment of breast cancer.

Acupuncture Treatment Has Less Side Effects

There was, however, a big difference between the 2 modalities with regard to side effects: Many patients treated with Effexor reported experiencing nausea, dry mouth, headache, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, double vision, increased blood pressure, constipation, fatigue, anxiety, feeling “spaced out,” and body jerking during the night. Patients treated with acupuncture experienced no negative side effects. Instead they reported having more energy, increased sexual desire, being able to think more clearly, and feeling better overall than before treatment.

The primary endpoint was the change in frequency and severity of hot flashes during the 12 weeks of treatment.

Secondary outcomes included menopause-specific quality of life, general health status, change in score on the Beck Depression Inventory, and treatment-related adverse effects.

Patients in both groups reported significant improvement in menopausal symptoms, quality of life, and depressive symptoms, and the extent of improvement was similar with either treatment, Dr. Walker reported.

Patients in the Effexor group reported a variety of adverse effects that included nausea, dry mouth, headache, sleep disturbance, dizziness, vision disturbance, increased blood pressure, fatigue, and anxiety.

The acupuncture group not only reported no treatment-related side effects but said they had improvement in energy, clarity of thought, sexual desire, and overall sense of well-being.

Primary source: International Journal of Radiation Oncology – Biology – Physics Source reference: Walker EM, et al “Acupuncture for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving hormone suppression treatment” Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2008; 72(1 Suppl):S103. Abstract 228.