A new study has found that acupuncture significantly reduces joint pain for post-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer taking aromatase inhibitors.

The research, presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, involved a randomised controlled trial comparing acupuncture, sham acupuncture and no acupuncture.

Lead researcher Dr Dawn Hershaman says aromatase inhibitors are among the most common and effective treatments given to post-menopausal women diagnosed with hormone receptor–positive breast cancer.

“However, many patients suffer from side effects that cause them to miss treatments or stop treatment altogether and we need to identify strategies to control these side effects, the most common of which is debilitating joint pain and stiffness,” she says.

Dr Hershaman says this new research shows that acupuncture may be a viable option to help manage joint pain for many women.

The clinical trial involved 226 patients in the trial, 110 were randomized to true acupuncture; 59 to sham acupuncture, which involves superficially inserting needles in nonacupoints; and 57 to no treatment.

Patients receiving true acupuncture or sham acupuncture had twice-weekly sessions for six weeks followed by one session per week for six more weeks. Patients reported on their pain before, during, and after treatment using various methods.

After six weeks, patients in the true acupuncture treatment arm reported significantly lower pain scores compared with those in the sham acupuncture and the control arms.

The mean worst pain score for the true acupuncture arm was 0.92 points lower than the mean worst pain for the sham acupuncture arm and 0.96 points lower than the mean worst pain score for the control arm.

In addition, the proportion of patients who had a large reduction in pain was significantly greater in the true acupuncture arm than in the sham acupuncture and the control arms: 58 percent compared with 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

The differences remained statistically significant when assessed at 24 weeks, even though the intervention itself only lasted 12 weeks.

“The data from this randomised clinical trial indicates that health care practitioners should discuss the possibility of acupuncture with patients experiencing aromatase inhibitor–related joint pain and stiffness because it has the potential to improve their quality of life,” says Dr Hershman.

“We hope that by reducing the debilitating side effects of aromatase inhibitor treatment, acupuncture may improve adherence to treatment and thereby outcomes, but we need to conduct further studies to determine if this is indeed the case.”

20 March 2018

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