Battling breast cancer is already a painful process for women who are suffering from this deadly disease. While breast cancer treatment can give them a fighting chance to survive, they also have to suffer from its side effects. It has been found that 80% of women who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or taking anti-oetrogen hormones like Tamoxifen and Armidex can suffer from hot flashes. These symptoms can be relieved by hormone replacement therapy but this may increase the risk the cancer coming back. Some patients are given steroids or antidepressant drugs to address this problem but these treatments may also result to weight gain, constipation, nausea and fatigue. The antidepressant, venlafaxine (Effexor) is commonly prescribed to women who are suffering from hot flashes but many are against this because this may cause insomnia, nausea, dizziness and decreased libido or they don’t want to take any more medications.
A recent research study headed by Dr. Eleanor Walker, a radiation oncologist at the Henry Ford Hospital Department of Radiation Oncology in Detroit, showed that acupuncture may be an alternative to conventional drugs in reducing the side effects of breast cancer treatments. The first of its kind study showed that acupuncture is effective in reducing hot flashes, excessive sweating (vasomotor symptoms) and night sweats caused by breast cancer treatments. The procedure is also longer-lasting and has no treatment side effects compared to conventional drug therapy.
The clinical trial was conducted on 47 breast cancer patients who were treated with Tamoxifen or Arimidex and were suffering from hot flashes at least 14 times per week. These patients were then treated with acupuncture or venlafixine for 12 weeks to find out if acupuncture is effective in reducing vasomotor symptoms of these patients undergoing hormonal treatment. The results showed that acupuncture can be as effective as venlafixine in reducing hot flashes but has no side effects like the antidepressant drug.
“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 Dr. Walker.
Acupuncture is a well-known form of traditional Oriental medicine based on the principle of stimulation of certain key body points. Acupuncture has been previously dismissed as “quack” by medical experts. However, its the health benefits is now slowly been recognized by. In a consensus statement in 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) stated
“Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.”
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