Can acupuncture help your joint pain? The answer might be yes, if you are a woman being treated for breast cancer.
Many postmenopausal women with breast cancer may receive aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole (Arimidex) or letrozole (Femara). These drugs block the production of estrogen, which can stimulate tumor growth. Aromatase inhibitors reduce the risk of recurrence. Common complications of these medications, however, include joint stiffness and pain.
Can Acupuncture Help Ease Uncomfortable Side Effects?
A new study published in JAMA (July 10, 2018) compared acupuncture to sham acupuncture and no treatment for this type of pain. More than 200 women participated in the research, which lasted for six weeks. Women who received true acupuncture had statistically significant reductions in joint pain. The improvement was modest and the researchers aren’t sure how long the benefits would last. Nonetheless, these results suggest that some women may benefit from this low-risk intervention.
Can Acupuncture Help Against Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are another common side effect of aromatase inhibitors. Previous research suggests that acupuncture may reduce the hot flashes due to the estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen. This medication is a standard treatment for breast cancer, but one side effect is hot flashes.
Doctors cannot prescribe estrogen, the usual treatment for such symptoms, because it might counteract the benefit of the drug and increase the risk for a recurrence. Investigators have found that acupuncture may be helpful (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Feb. 2010). During this small study women were randomly assigned to receive either venlafaxine (Effexor) or acupuncture for three months. Both treatments worked equally well.
Many women receiving Effexor experienced side effects such as anxiety or dizziness. Women using acupuncture did not report side effects.