Acupuncture Decreases Hot Flashes Caused by Breast Cancer Treatment, Multinational Study Finds


Previous acupuncture studies have focused on European and American women, but little was known about breast cancer patients in Asia.

© Zadvornov -

hot flash © Zadvornov -

Hot flashes caused by endocrine therapy treatment decreased by 46% after acupuncture treatments, the results of a new multinational study show.

Acupuncture is a part of the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. It is administered using hair-thin needs placed on various pressure points around the body and is believed to stimulate the central nervous system to promote healing throughout the body. Although Western medicine has not been able to explain how it works, people have been using it for approximately 3,000 years with success.

A team of researchers led by Weidong Lu, MB, M.P.H., Ph.D., from the department of medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, orchestrated a study with three parallel trials in the United States, South Korea and China. The median age of the 158 participants was 48. Results were published earlier this week in Cancer.

To be considered for the study, breast cancer patients had to be finished with all chemo and radiation therapy, currently be on endocrine therapy for at least four weeks prior and have at least 14 hot flashes a week. Participants reported an average of six hot flashes a day before beginning the acupuncture.

Participants were separated into two groups. The first group immediately began acupuncture and received 20 sessions over 10 weeks and then stopped. In the second group, acupuncture was delayed for the first 10 weeks and then given once a week for 10 weeks. The study took place from January 2019 to February 2022 at Daegu Catholic University Medical Center in South Korea and Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.

Five acupuncture points were standard for the research and an additional 6 were optional. The United States and South Korean groups used all 11 points and the Chinese group used 9 points. Effectiveness was measured using the endocrine symptom subscale (ESS) of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy (FACT)-Endocrine Symptoms, which contains 19 symptoms with scores ranging from 0 to 76. A lower ESS score is associated with worse endocrine symptoms. By week 10, the ESS score for immediate acupuncture was 4.9 and the delayed acupuncture score was 1.3.

Endocrine therapy is a common treatment for about 75% of breast cancer cases, specifically for hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, which grow and spread by attaching to estrogen and progesterone. Endocrine therapy works by blocking the hormones from reaching breast cancer cells.

Hot flashes affect about 80% of breast cancer patients on endocrine therapy and are associated with treatment discontinuation. Previous studies on venlafaxine and gabapentin have shown a reduction in hot flashes but had negative side effects such as dizziness, dry mouth and difficulty sleeping.

“We found that acupuncture led to significant improvements in hot flashes, other endocrine symptoms, and quality of life across patient populations in the US, China and South Korea,” Lu wrote in an email interview with Managed Healthcare Executive. “This indicates acupuncture may be an effective, non-pharmacologic option to help women better tolerate endocrine therapy. As evidence accumulates, we should consider how to effectively integrate acupuncture into standard oncology care pathways, ensuring that all suitable patients have access to this beneficial therapy.”

© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.