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Acupuncture May Help AI Side Effects

Posted 8/5/2014

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  As we all know, the endocrine/hormonal/anti-estrogen therapies are the mainstay for treatment for women with ER positive breast cancers. For younger women, this is usually Tamoxifen although there are several clinical trials that include Lupron or another monthly shot to close down ovarian function (and stop menstruation) and an AI. For post-menopausal women, the treatment is inevitably one of the three Aromatase Inhibitors or AIs.

  The most common side effects of the AIs are bone density diminishment and general aches and pains in muscles and joints. A few women are so uncomfortable that continuing the medication becomes a problem, and a few have no reactions. Most, however, are somewhere in the middle with stiffness or aches that may come and go and may be exacerbated by certain weather conditions. I hear women frequently laugh and suggest they are "human barometers"; when it is hot and humid, they ache more.

  There have been a number of suggestions re how to manage these aches and pains, but the bottom line has always been, and really still is, to buck up and deal with them. It indeed is better to be somewhat uncomfortable than to be dead. (sorry for that strong sentence) This new study from Cancer indicates that acupuncture may be of true help to those women who are uncomfortable from these meds. Here is the summary from NEJM Journal Watch:

Acupuncture may help improve fatigue and psychological distress in women with breast cancer who have joint
pain related to use of aromatase inhibitors, according to a study in Cancer.
Nearly 70 patients with early stage breast cancer and arthralgia linked to 
treatment were randomized to one of three groups: usual care, sham acupuncture, or electro-acupuncture. All participants  received education on staying physically active, managing joint pain, and continuing their current medications.
Both acupuncture groups received 10 treatments over 8 weeks. The electro-acupuncture group received electrical  stimulation through needles inserted around the joint with the most pain. Other needles were inserted in spots intended to alleviate non-pain symptoms. Meanwhile, the sham acupuncture group had non-penetrating
needles at non-acupuncture points and no electrical stimulation.
At 12 weeks' follow up, the electro-acupuncture group had significant improvements in scores of fatigue, anxiety, and depression, compared with the usual care group. Sham acupuncture outperformed usual care only for depression.


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