Traditional acupuncture (TA) offers an effective non-pharmaceutical method of managing the hot flushes and night sweats (HF&NS) associated with taking tamoxifen for breast cancer, according to British researchers. Fifty participants with early breast cancer who were taking tamoxifen were enrolled in a single-arm observational study. They received eight weekly individualised TA treatments, using a core standardised protocol designed for the treatment of HF&NS in natural menopause. The women’s mean frequency of hot flushes was reduced by 49.8% at the end of treatment (EOT) compared with baseline, and trends indicated longer-term effects at four and 18 weeks after EOT. The women also showed significant statistical and clinical improvements in other areas of physical and emotional well-being and reported their perception of HF&NS as a problem as being reduced. (Using traditional acupuncture for breast cancer-related hot flashes and night sweats. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Oct;16(10):1047-57).

Acupuncture produces measurable benefits in symptom reduction and quality of life (QOL) for patients with advanced ovarian and breast cancer, according to US researchers. In a pilot, single-armed prospective trial, 40 patients with advanced cancer were enrolled to receive 12 acupuncture sessions over eight weeks, with follow-up at weeks nine and 12. Among all 32 assessed patients, there was self-reported improvement immediately post-treatment in anxiety, fatigue, pain and depression, and significant improvement over time in anxiety and depression. QOL measures of pain severity and interference, physical and psychological distress, life satisfaction and mood states also showed improved scores during treatment, with sustained benefit at 12 weeks. (Acupuncture as palliative therapy for physical symptoms and quality of life for advanced cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2010 Jun;9(2):158-67).

Not only is acupuncture as effective as drug therapy at preventing hot flushes in breast cancer patients who have been receiving long-term anti-oestrogen therapy, it also increases women’s sex drive and improves their sense of well-being.  Venlafaxine (Effexor – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) – the therapy of choice for such symptoms – has numerous adverse effects. An American team randomly assigned fifty patients to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture or venlafaxine treatment. Both groups exhibited significant decreases in hot flushes, depressive symptoms and other quality-of-life symptoms, including significant improvements in mental health.  These changes were similar in both groups indicating that acupuncture was as effective as venlafaxine. By two weeks post-treatment, the venlafaxine group experienced significant increases in hot flushes, whereas hot flushes in the acupuncture group remained at low levels. The venlafaxine group experienced 18 incidences of adverse effects (nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety), whereas the acupuncture group experienced no negative effects. Acupuncture had the additional benefit of increasing sex drive in some women, and most reported improvements in their energy, clarity of thought and sense of well-being. (Acupuncture versus venlafaxine for the management of vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Feb 1;28(4):634-40).

Acupuncture may help to relieve the joint pain and stiffness that are a common side-effect of the use of aromatase inhibitors (AI) that suppress oestrogen production in women with breast cancer. US researchers conducted a study of 43 postmenopausal women with early breast cancer who were being treated with AI and experiencing arthralgia. They were randomised to receive true acupuncture (TA – auricular acupuncture and joint-specific point prescriptions) or sham acupuncture (SA- superficial needle insertion at non-acupoint locations) twice weekly for six weeks. Pain scores at six weeks, measured using a variety of scales, were significantly lower for the TA group compared with the SA group. (Randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial of acupuncture for the management of aromatase inhibitor-associated joint symptoms in women with early-stage breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Mar 1;28(7):1154-60).

A preliminary trial by an American team has found acupuncture to be a promising way of treating arthralgia in women receiving aromatase inhibitors (AIs) for breast cancer. Twelve patients were provided with electro-acupuncture (EA) twice a week for two weeks, followed by six weekly treatments. Acupuncture was based on the TCM diagnosis of bi syndrome, with electrostimulation of needles around the painful joints. From baseline to the end of intervention patients reported reductions in pain severity (from 5.3 to 1.9), stiffness (from 6.9 to 2.4), and joint symptom interference (from 4.7 to 0.8). They considered joint symptoms ‘very much better’ and also reported a significant decrease in fatigue (from 4.4 to 1.9) and anxiety (from 7.1 to 4.8). No infection or development/worsening of lymphoedema was observed. (Feasibility trial of electroacupuncture for aromatase inhibitor-related arthralgia in breast cancer survivors. Integr Cancer Ther. 2109 Jun;8(2):123-9).

A small qualitative study carried out in the UK has found that a standardised auricular acupuncture protocol delivered in small group clinics is beneficial for women suffering from hot flushes caused by hormone treatment for breast cancer. The 16 women interviewed found the acupuncture to be helpful and relaxing. Many reported reductions in hot flush frequency, as well as improvements in overall emotional and physical wellbeing. The group treatment setting was regarded as supportive and encouraging. (Ear acupuncture for hot flushes – The perceptions of women with breast cancer. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2007 Nov;13(4):250-7).