Real And Sham Acupuncture Effective Chemo Side Effects
December 23, 2013

Both Real And ‘Sham’ Acupuncture Reduce Side Effects Of Breast Cancer Chemo

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Is acupuncture a legitimate medical treatment? Or is it a centuries-old scam? Maybe the question should really be: Does it matter?

According to a new study published on Monday in the journal Cancer, a team of American researchers has found that both real and “sham” acupuncture were able to reduce hot flashes that were a side effect of anticancer drugs called aromatase inhibitors (AI). The drugs block estrogen production in postmenopausal women – causing moderate to severe hot flashes, as well as joint and muscle pain.

In the study, the researchers recruited 47 postmenopausal, female breast cancer patients who had been receiving AI treatments for at least a month and had been reporting some musculoskeletal symptoms commonly associated with the drugs. Participants were split into two groups, with each group receiving eight weekly treatments of real or fake acupuncture.

During the 8-week treatment period and a follow-up session at week 12, participants were asked to turn in weekly hot-flash diaries. Study volunteers also filled out surveys on other menopausal symptoms – such as sleep quality, mood and overall well-being – that were collected at four-week intervals through the 12 weeks.

The research team said the real acupuncture group saw considerable improvements in depression-like symptoms, hot-flash intensity and regularity, hot flash-related routine disruption and other menopausal symptoms. Meanwhile, the sham acupuncture group also reported statistically important improvements in quality of life, hot flash routine disruption, and other symptoms.

"We found that patients with early stage, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer taking an aromatase inhibitor showed significant improvement in some symptoms, especially hot flashes, after eight weekly treatments with real acupuncture or sham acupuncture," said study author Dr. Ting Bao, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.

To conduct the sham acupuncture sessions, the researchers used retractable needles that induced a pricking sensation on the skin that resembled those felt during actual acupuncture sessions. The non-penetrating needles were used in 14 locations that are used for real acupuncture. Participants in the sham group actually saw a greater average reduction in hot-flash severity, 31 percent to 54 percent.

While the researchers did not set out to find a racial disparity, they noted that African-American women saw a greater hot flash-related benefit from real acupuncture than the sham treatments. However, with only nine African-American participants – the study team said they could not draw any conclusions from the find. The study authors also noted that the study sample of 47 may not have been big enough to find a significant distinction between the real and fake treatments.

"There was no statistically significant difference between the two interventions," Bao noted. She added that even the sham procedure may have some unexplained physiological effects.

"We are not convinced that sham acupuncture is totally inert," Bao said.

"Importantly, neither type of acupuncture produced any significant side effects, which is good news for patients,” she continued. "If we really want to find something that will help patients, acupuncture is a reasonable alternative to drug therapy, which can produce its own set of side effects.”