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February 2013

Acupuncture May Reduce Hot Flashes in Breast Cancer Patients

A recent study suggests that acupuncture may reduce hot flashes in women with breast cancer undergoing anti-estrogen therapy.

In breast cancer, some cells begin growing abnormally. The cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and may spread through the breast tissue to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasize). The most common type of breast cancer begins in the milk-producing ducts, but cancer may also occur in the lobules or in other breast tissue. Estrogen and progesterone receptor tests are usually performed on the malignant cells. These tests help determine whether female hormones affect the way the cancer grows. If the cancer cells have receptors for estrogen, progesterone or both, the doctor may recommend treatment with a drug tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen and works by competing with the hormone estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells. By blocking estrogen in the breast, tamoxifen helps slow the growth and reproduction of breast cancer cells. Tamoxifen is taken orally, and possible side effects include hot flashes. Acupuncture has been suggested as a possible treatment for tamoxifen-related hot flashes.

In a new study, researchers investigated the effect of acupuncture on breast cancer patients with anti-estrogen therapy-related hot flashes. Ten women who were receiving tamoxifen or anastrozole, another anti-estrogen drug, were assigned to receive acupuncture treatments three times weekly for four weeks. Participants rated their hot flash severity by the visual analogue scale and a hot flash score.

The researchers found that in all participants, hot flash severity was significantly reduced on both the visual analogue scale and the hot flash score when compared to before treatment. Furthermore, the alleviation of hot flash symptoms remained four weeks after the final acupuncture session.

While promising, further well-designed clinical trials evaluating larger patient populations are needed before a conclusion can be made.

For more information about acupuncture, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.

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  1. Jeong YJ, Park YS, Kwon HJ et al. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Hot Flashes in Patients with Breast Cancer Receiving Antiestrogen Therapy: A Pilot Study in Korean Women. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Feb 5. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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