Acupuncture may significantly reduce hot flashes and other hormonal side effects of endocrine therapy taken by women with breast cancer, claimed a study, based on a pooled analysis of three clinical trials, on Monday. 

Endocrine therapy helps block hormone signalling that drives some forms of breast cancer. Although a life-saving treatment, up to 80 per cent of women experience hot flashes — a sudden, temporary sensation of body warmth, flushing, and sweating — and other side effects after taking it, leading to discontinuation, while elevating the risk of cancer progression and death.

To probe acupuncture`s potential, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, US, conducted a coordinated, multinational project consisting of three independent randomised controlled trials in the US, China, and South Korea.

The analysis, published in the journal CANCER, included 158 women with stage 0-III breast cancer. These women were randomised to immediate acupuncture (IA) who received acupuncture twice a week for 10 weeks and were followed for an additional 10 weeks without acupuncture or delayed acupuncture control (DAC).

DAC participants received usual care for 10 weeks, then crossed over to acupuncture with a reduced intensity (once per week) for 10 weeks.

After week 10, 64 per cent of people in the IA group reported improvements in the number and severity of their hot flashes, compared with 18 per cent in the DAC group.

Further, the DAC participants who received weekly acupuncture showed significant improvements in symptom scores relative to week 10. No side effects were reported by any of the participants.

“By managing side effects, our approach makes it easier for patients to continue their prescribed medication, which has the potential to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and improve long-term outcomes for breast cancer survivors,” said lead author Weidong Lu, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Weidong also suggested people interested in using acupuncture start with “a short trial period” and based on the results “engage in a long-term programme”.

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