Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for years – centuries even – because of its natural approach to human health. An area of TCM that’s getting renown even from Western medicine is acupuncture and based on the findings of a study made by researchers at the NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center, it could work well in pain relief management brought about by cancer treatment.
In their randomized, multicenter study, acupuncture was shown to diminish joint pain in women with early-stage breast cancer treated with aromatase inhibitors. This type of breast cancer affects many women after menopause, as this is a type of hormone-positive cancer that is triggered by estrogen. Physicians treat this with aromatase inhibitors, which prevents estrogen to trigger a recurrence of the disease. However, up to 50 percent of women report that they feel intense joint pain and stiffness after the treatment.
Researchers noted that at least two-thirds of breast cancers are treated via aromatase inhibitors. According to Dr. Dawn Hershman of the Breast Cancer Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center: “Despite the well-proven effectiveness of this treatment, many patients experience side effects that cause them to miss treatments or stop their therapy altogether. By controlling side effects and keeping patients on their medication, we may be able to improve breast cancer outcomes.”
Previous studies of acupuncture have already indicated that it can alleviate joint pain caused by aromatase inhibitor treatment. However, these were conducted over a small sample size and can provide uncertain interpretation of data.
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For this study, the research team used a larger sample pool from different sites to determine if acupuncture would help with decreasing joint pain caused by aromatase inhibitor treatment. Two sets of acupuncture were utilized: One was true acupuncture which targeted acupoints in the body, while the other was labeled the “sham” acupuncture which did not needle at proper acupoints. A sample pool of 226 women with early-stage, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer who were being treated using aromatase inhibitors was used. All samples had indicated significant joint pain beforehand. The pain was measured on a scale of zero to 10, with higher scores noting more pain.
Patients were then split into two groups: one group was assigned to receive true acupuncture treatments twice a week for six weeks, while the other group received sham acupuncture. After six weeks, the frequency was reduced to once a week for another six weeks. Patients were then observed for another 12 weeks and were asked regarding the state of their pain afterward.
The results showed that on average, patients who had been treated using true acupuncture posted an improvement in their pain, with participants stating they experienced a decrease in pain, even after they had stopped receiving acupuncture. This trend continued for the rest of the 24 weeks that they were under the treatment. This reported improvement was higher compared to those who received sham acupuncture, and both groups reported bruising as one of the effects of acupuncture.
The research team said that the result of this study is a possibility of further studying this method as an effective way of treating pain. Acupuncture is non-addictive and there are only a few side effects, and its effects are felt even after the patient stops the treatment. Researchers also say that patients do not want to take additional medications to relieve pain caused by aromatase inhibitors.
“Our goal was to provide an alternative to pain medications to control this side effect,” says Dr. Hershman. “We have a huge problem in this country with pain medications, and it’s imperative to find alternative ways of controlling pain and discomfort so that individuals with breast cancer can stay on their treatment.”
Follow more news on the science behind Traditional Chinese Medicine at ChineseMedicine.news.