According to Eleanor Walker, lead author of the study and radiation oncologist, the study indicates that physicians and patients have an additional treatment option for issues that afflict the majority of breast cancer survivors. In addition, this therapy has benefits, as opposed to unwanted side effects. She added that the effect of acupuncture therapy lasts longer than commonly used drugs to treat vasomotor symptoms and it is more cost-effective for insurance companies.
For the study, 47 breast cancer patients participating in a randomized clinical trial were given anti-estrogen hormones Tamoxifen or Arimidex. Each patient experienced at least 14 hot flashes each week. The patients were then split into two groups. One group received acupuncture treatment and the other group received venlafaxine treatments for their hot flashes over the course of 12 weeks. The results revealed that acupuncture worked as well as venlafaxine, its effect lasted longer than the drug’s after treatment was completed, and there were unexpected additional health benefits.
The study outcome is significant because cancer victims are often treated with chemotherapy or anti-estrogen drugs. The results of these treatments leave the patients with an estrogen deficit, which produces life-disrupting night sweats and hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy is not a treatment option since it has been found to increase the risk of cancer recurrence. The conventional drugs used to counter these hot flashes and related symptoms also have unwanted side effects including weight gain, nausea, constipation, and fatigue.
An additional study also finds that not only is acupuncture as effective as drug therapy at reducing hot flash symptoms in breast cancer patients, there is also the added benefit of increasing a woman’s sex drive and improving her sense of well-being, according to a Henry Ford Hospital study.
Since acupuncture has been found to effectively reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, Dr. Eleanor Walker and her research team at Henry Ford Hospital decided to experiment on using acupuncture to deter vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients as an alternative to drug therapy.
To compare the two treatment choices, 50 patients were recruited from oncology centers at Henry Ford. Patients were randomly divided into groups receiving acupuncture or venlafaxine treatment for 12 weeks. The drug therapy group received venlafaxine orally each night, 37.5mg during the first week and then 75mg for the following 11 weeks. The other group underwent acupuncture treatments twice per week for the first four weeks, then once a week for the following 8 weeks.
At the conclusion of the 8 week trial, all patients ceased their therapy and were followed by investigators for one year. Patients each recorded the number and severity of hot flash encounters, and took surveys to measure both overall health and mental health. The study discovered that both groups initially experienced a 50 percent decline in hot flashes and depressive symptoms, conclusively indicating that acupuncture is as effective as drug therapy.