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Acupuncture & Cancer Research

Acupuncture Reduces Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment As Much As Conventional Drug Therapy By:
American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology

Acupuncture is as effective and longer-lasting in managing the common debilitating side effects of hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating (vasomotor symptoms) associated with breast cancer treatment and has no treatment side effects compared to conventional drug therapy, according to a first-of-its-kind study presented September 24, 2008, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's 50th Annual Meeting in Boston.

Findings also show there were additional benefits to acupuncture treatment for breast cancer patients, such as an increased sense of well being, more energy, and in some cases, a higher sex drive, that were not experienced in those patients who underwent drug treatment for their hot flashes.

"Our study shows that physicians and patients have an additional therapy for something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors and actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects. The effect is more durable than a drug commonly used to treat these vasomotor symptoms and, ultimately, is more cost-effective for insurance companies," according to Eleanor Walker, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Henry Ford Hospital Department of Radiation Oncology in Detroit.

The reduction in hot flashes lasted longer for those breast cancer patients after completing their acupuncture treatment, compared to patients after stopping their drug therapy plan.

Eighty percent of women treated for breast cancer suffer from hot flashes after being treated with chemotherapy and/or anti-estrogen hormones, such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex. Although hormone replacement therapy is typically used to relieve these symptoms, breast cancer patients cannot use this therapy because it may increase the risk of the cancer coming back. As a treatment alternative, patients are generally treated with steroids and/or antidepressant drugs. These drugs, however, have additional side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, constipation and fatigue. The antidepressant, venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is one of the most common drugs used to treat these hot flashes. However, many women decide against this treatment choice because of potential side effects, including decreased libido, insomnia, dizziness and nausea, or because they simply do not want to take any more medications.

The randomized clinical trial compared acupuncture treatment to venlafixine for 12 weeks to find out if acupuncture reduced vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving hormonal therapy and produced fewer side effects than venlafaxine. The study involved 47 breast cancer patients who received either Tamoxifen or Arimidex and had at least 14 hot flashes per week. Results show that acupuncture reduces hot flashes as effectively as venlafaxine, with no side effects, and also provides additional health benefits to patients.

Children and Oncology:

Dr. D. Rooney reported on using acupuncture in pediatric oncology at the Society Integrative Oncology meeting in Boston. Acupuncture "treatment was acceptable for children as young as one year of age and was safely administered to children with thrombocytopenia." (Acupuncture Today, Mar. 2007, vol. 08, issue 3) Researchers at the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute described an NIH funded trial using acupuncture to mitigate chemotherapy- induced neutropenia.

Nutrition and Cancer:

Oriental Medicine looks at the body as composed of yin, yang, qi, blood, jing essence and shen. Herbal formulas address these substances to restore balance, thus improved health. Many of the ingredients in these formulas one would recognize as common foods or plants. It is the special formulation, or the combining of these ingredients that have been empirically understood over thousands of years, to impact the body's health.

As stated elsewhere: Herbal remedies may be best left for supporting one's health following CA treatment. Closely following the doctor's prescription for eradicating the cancer is the best plan. The doctors, nurses at the Cancer Center have a plan for your recovery and are invested in this process. It is not wise to do anything that might comprise the results. Saying this, there are complementary therapies that clearly will not interfere with (your) CA treatment. Acupuncture, therapeutic touch, yoga , qi gong, exercise, good nutrition, finding reasons to love more and engage in life, getting sleep! - all clearly contribute to your health and sense of well being resulting in better responses to CA treatment.

Good nutrition is important to maintain during oncology treatment, but often it is difficult to maintain an appetite. As an acupuncturist, I can guide you to some simple foods or teas that will help you maintain your energy through treatment.

A recent PET scan study revealed that patients with tumors could benefit from reducing their simple sugar intake. PET scan images tracked simple sugar with a radio isotope. The images demonstrated the sugar traveling to feed the high metabolic demands of the tumor.

Cancer References:

  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Medicine
  • National Cancer Institute


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