For many patients who have survived breast cancer, the road to recovery means combining a variety of practices to get back to better health. The combination of nutrition, fitness, medical expertise, and holistic options can help survivors regain their strength and feel their best. Acupuncture is not for everyone, but studies have shown that it may help breast cancer survivors deal with the side effects of treatment.
Many women experience hot flashes after undergoing breast cancer treatment from the estrogen-targeting therapies used to treat breast cancer. Hot flashes can be particularly severe and frequent in breast cancer survivors, but the current remedies for hot flashes—such as hormone replacement—are off limits to breast cancer survivors because they include estrogen. However, a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found an innovative way to manage hot flashes for cancer survivors.
The report’s lead author, Jun J. Mao said, “Though most people associate hot flashes with menopause, the episodes also affect many breast cancer survivors who have low estrogen levels and often undergoing premature menopause, following treatment with chemotherapy or surgery. These latest results clearly show promise for managing hot flashes experienced by breast cancer survivors through the use of acupuncture, which in previous studies has also been proven to be an effective treatment for joint pain in this patient population.”
For those who are unfamiliar, hot flashes are episodes of flushing, sweating, racing heartbeat and sensations of heat. Precisely how hot flashes happen isn’t known, but they are closely associated with decreased estrogen levels.
The study contained 120 breast cancer survivors who all reported experiencing multiple hot flashes a day. Patients were then randomly grouped into four different groups that would analyze the effectiveness of an acupuncture technique known as electroacupuncture—where the needles deliver weak electrical currents. The acupuncture’s effectiveness was compared to the other main treatment method, an epilepsy drug called gabapentin. Over the course of eight weeks, participants either received gabapentin, gabapentin placebo, electroacupuncture, or sham electroacupuncture, which involves no needle or current.
After eight weeks, participants who received the electroacupuncture showed the greatest improvement in a standard measure of their hot flash frequency and severity, followed by the sham acupuncture group, the gabapentin pill, and the gabapentin placebo. The acupuncture groups also reported the fewest side effects.
Some may question whether or not acupuncture has actual biological effects apart from the power of suggestion. Previous studies have shown that the practice can boost bloodstream levels of endorphins—painkilling, mood-elevating molecules. Studies have also shown that traditional acupuncture works differently than sham acupuncture on the brain. Acupuncture is just one option of many. If you’re a breast cancer survivor trying to find ways to manage your side effects, call your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to find a solution that works best for you.