Acupuncture provides effective relief from hot flashes in women who are being treated with the medication tamoxifen following surgery for breast cancer, according to recent research presented at the Breast Cancer Conference in Berlin.
Jill Hervik, an acupuncturist at Vestfold Central Hospital in Norway, stated that breast cancer patients who received traditional Chinese acupuncture had a 50 percent reduction in hot flashes, both during the day and night, and that this effect continued after the acupuncture ceased.
“Acupuncture is increasingly used in western countries to treat the problem of hot flashes in healthy postmenopausal women, so we wanted to see whether it was effective in women with breast cancer suffering from hot flashes as a result of their medication,” Hervik said.
Tamoxifen can cause many of the symptoms that occur during menopause, including hot flashes. For healthy women, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has traditionally been used to alleviate symptoms, but HRT is associated with an increased risk of specific types of cancers.
In a prospective, single-blind, controlled trial, Hervik randomized 59 breast cancer patients to receive either ten weeks of traditional Chinese acupuncture or sham acupuncture. All were taking tamoxifen following surgery and were postmenopausal. She delivered both the real and the sham acupuncture to the patients and maintained a neutral treatment atmosphere in order to reduce the placebo effect of the treatments.
The patients recorded the number of hot flashes they experienced for four weeks before the treatment, during the treatment and during a 12-week follow-up period. Other menopausal symptoms were also measured over the same periods using a quality of life index that incorporates symptoms such as sweating, sleep problems, depression, dizziness, palpitations, joint pain, and headache.
Both the acupuncture and the sham acupuncture were given twice a week for the first five weeks and then once a week for the next five weeks. The real acupuncture was given using needles inserted at several well-known acupuncture points. For the sham acupuncture, the needles were not inserted as deep (a maximum of 3mm), and in places distant from acupuncture points.
“During the treatment, hot flashes were reduced by 50 percent, both day and night, in the acupuncture group,” said Hervik. Three months after the last treatment a further reduction was seen. No significant changes were seen in the sham group during the day. At night there was a slight reduction during the treatment period but, once treatment had ceased, the number of hot flashes increased again.
“Acupuncture seems to provide effective relief from hot flashes, both day and night, for women taking tamoxifen after surgery for breast cancer. This treatment effect seems to coincide with a general improvement in well being,” said Hervik.
Acupuncture has an advantage over other treatments for hot flashes: it does not cause adverse side effects. Study findings suggest that acupuncture could be used more widely for treating breast cancer patients suffering from symptoms related to their medication.
For more information about acupuncture for the treatment of hot flashes call Dr. Richard Browne, Acupuncture Physician, at (305) 595-9500.