Cancer treatment comes with a lot of side effects, mild and severe, short-term and long-term. In recent years, complementary medicine has become an integral part of the management of the side effects of cancer treatment. The most popular complementary therapies are yoga, transcendental meditation, and acupuncture
In this recent study by researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital, acupuncture has beneficial effects that can reduce two other common side effects of breast cancer treatment – hot flashes and decreased sex drive.
Acupuncture vs. drug therapy
The study compared venlafaxine (Effexor), a drug commonly used to manage hormone therapy side effects vs. acupuncture in 50 patients undergoing hormone therapy for breast cancer. Although effective, venlafaxine has its own die effects such as dry mouth, decreased appetite, nausea and constipation. The study showed that acupuncture is more effective in improving overall as well as mental health in this group of patients.
Night sweats and hot flashes are commonly experienced by breast cancer patients who undergo hormone therapy for breast cancer treatment. Although there are pharmacological agents (e.g. venlafaxine) that help ease these symptoms, acupuncture seems to have a longer-lasting effect compared to drugs.
According to lead author Dr. Eleanor Walker, division director of breast services in the Department of
Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital:
“Acupuncture offers patients a safe, effective and durable treatment option for hot flashes, something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors. Compared to drug therapy, acupuncture actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects.”
Reduced sex drive is another side effect of cancer treatment. The study observed improved sex drive among patients who underwent acupuncture. Increasing a woman’s sex drive improves her sense of well-being.
Quality of life
Night sweats and decreased sex drive are vasomotor symptoms caused by long-term hormone therapy. These symptoms lead to decreased quality of life, depression and even discontinuation of cancer treatment. However, patients who underwent acupuncture seemed to be able to cope better with the vasomotor symptoms. These reported a sense of well- being, more energy, and clarity of thought.
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.”