Acupuncture may reduce cancer drug side effects

The ancient practice of acupuncture has been tested in a range of conditions — with varying results. Recently, it has been pitted against the joint pain that is associated with early breast cancer treatment.

Aromatase inhibitors are commonly used in the treatment of hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

Though effective, they produce unpleasant side effects that include arthralgias, or pain and stiffness in joints.

Occurring in around half of all people who take aromatase inhibitors, arthralgia can be severe enough to cause some people to drop out of treatment.

Finding a way to minimize the discomfort will help women to tolerate these drugs and improve survival rates in the long run.

Acupuncture is a controversial topic among researchers. Although it has been used for centuries to treat innumerable diseases, its benefits for pain relief beyond the placebo effect have been questioned. Reliable evidence backing acupuncture is still hard to come by.

Acupuncture and aromatase inhibitors

Regardless of the controversies, acupuncture has previously been tested for its potential to reduce arthralgias in women taking aromatase inhibitors. But according to the latest study, published in JAMA, these studies had substantial shortfalls.

As the study authors explain, some issues included “small sample size, ineffective blinding, and implementation at single centers.” The team involved in the recent project, led by Dr. Dawn L. Hershman, aimed to iron out some of these creases.

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