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Acupuncture for Hot Flashes in Breast Cancer Patients

January 3rd, 2010 No comments

Hot Flashes.  Night Sweats.  Decreased energy levels.  Discomforts felt by many but made worse in breast cancer patients.  Symptoms also recognized as both a yin (five palm heat and night sweats) and qi (decreased energy levels) deficiencies.  Both improved by acupuncture.

Yet another study (and the skeptics say there aren’t any… pshaw!), this time in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (you mean these studies are in REAL medical journals? wow!) states what TCM practitioners have known since before Moses parted the Red Sea – that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can treat hormone imbalances.  The western medicine method of treating hormone imbalances can be summarized in two statements: a) suppress what is excessive and b) replace what is missing.

The Chinese medicine way is to try to see where the system isn’t working right and correct THAT.

But on to the article, found on Webmd.  Yes, webmd (http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20091231/acupuncture-may-help-ease-hot-flashes)

Acupuncture May Help Ease Hot Flashes
Study Shows Acupuncture Offers Relief to Breast Cancer Patients With Hot Flashes
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 31, 2009 — Acupuncture not only cools hot flashes that occur as a result of breast cancer treatment but may offer a host of other benefits to boost women’s well-being.

A new study shows acupuncture was as good as drug therapy with Effexor (venlafaxine) at easing hot flashes in breast cancer patients, but it also improved sex drive, energy levels, and clarity of thought.

“Acupuncture offers patients a safe, effective and durable treatment option for hot flashes, something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors. Compared to drug therapy, acupuncture actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects,” researcher Eleanor Walker, MD, division director of breast services in the department of radiation oncology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says in a news release.
According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Typical treatment for breast cancer involves chemotherapy and five years of hormone therapy that often causes unpleasant side effects, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and decreased sex drive and energy levels.

Researchers say these side effects of breast cancer treatment significantly decrease a woman’s quality of life and may cause some women to discontinue treatment.

Acupuncture has already been shown to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, but researchers say this is the first study to compare acupuncture to drug treatment in easing hot flashes in breast cancer patients. The results appear in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Fifty breast cancer patients were randomly assigned to receive either acupuncture or drug treatment for 12 weeks. The acupuncture group received acupuncture treatments twice per week for the first four weeks and then once a week for the remaining eight weeks; the drug group received 37.5 milligrams of Effexor each night for the first week and then 75 milligrams per night for the remaining 11 weeks.

I can almost hear the randomized clinical trial robots going: but it isn’t double blinded? DUH.

All participants stopped their treatment after 12 weeks and kept a diary to record the number and severity of hot flashes; they were surveyed about their overall physical and mental health for one year.

Both groups experienced a 50% decline in hot flashes and symptoms of depression, but the acupuncture treatment appeared to have more lasting effects with fewer side effects.

For example, two weeks after the treatments stopped, the drug therapy group experienced an increase in hot flashes; the acupuncture group did not experience any increase in the frequency of their hot flashes until three months after treatment.

Okay this is worth commenting on: The endocrine system is a complex system of feedback mechanisms.  Positive feedback means that more of a particular substance causes increased secretion of a hormone.  Negative feedback means that less of a particular substance causes the increase.  It’s the body’s self regulation system in a nutshell.  When using hormone replacement therapy, there is a tendency for this system to go out of whack.  It’s precisely why people on steroids should not be on them too long and have the steroids tapered off instead of stopped suddenly.  Too long and the adrenals start thinking that the high level of steroids is normal, and you can have worse endocrine disorders like Addison’s Disease.  If stopped suddenly, there might be a sudden rebound of symptoms due to the sudden change in the amount of available hormone or precursors.  That’s precisely what happened when hormone therapy was discontinued after 12 weeks – sudden rebound.  With acupuncture, though, there was no backlash, and the symptoms came back slowly but not on the same levels as before treatment.  This is typical acupuncture results by the way.

In addition, the Effexor group reported 18 instances of negative side effects, including nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, and anxiety, compared with no adverse side effects reported among the acupuncture group.

Let’s repeat that statement, boys and girls.  NO ADVERSE SIDE EFFECTS.  NO ADVERSE SIDE EFFECTS.  Wait.  Didn’t the article earlier say FEWER side effects?  What’s the difference between a SIDE effect and and ADVERSE effect anyway?

Most breast cancer patients treated with acupuncture also reported an improvement in their energy, clarity of thought, and sense of well-being. About 25% of women in the acupuncture group also reported an increase in their sex drive.

Once again, if acupuncture is a placebo, I’ll take that placebo!

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