Acupuncture and Joint Pains

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

DECEMBER 15, 2017

Yesterday I was a guest at the breast cancer support group at the BID Needham Cancer Center. The most popular discussion was focused on joint and muscle aches/stiffness/pain from the AIs (and one woman complained of those problems from Tamoxifen which is an unusual reaction to that drug). You likely know that this is a common side effect for women on these estrogen-blockers for ER positive breast cancers. There have been a number of studies that have suggested that these issues may not be directly related to the medications, but may be also associated with normal aging, arthritis, or other problems. Nonetheless, it is a concern for many women.

At last week's San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, a really interesting study was presented. It suggested that acupuncture may be a very valuable treatment. I have surely known women who found acupuncture helpful for all kinds of problems, but this one is new to me.

From EurekAlert Science comes this summary. Here is the start and a link:

Acupuncture significantly reduces joint pain for breast cancer patients

In the largest, most rigorous study of its kind, acupuncture was found to significantly reduce the debilitating joint pain experienced by tens of thousands of women each year while being treated for early stage breast cancer, according to SWOG research results to be announced at a December 7 press conference at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Investigators from SWOG, the global cancer clinical trials network funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), conducted a randomized, blinded, multicenter trial, known as S1200, to test whether acupuncture is effective in alleviating pain caused by aromatase inhibitors, a common treatment for hormone sensitive breast cancers.

Treating this pain effectively, without the use of opioids or other drugs, is a top cancer research priority. Tens of thousands of women each year are treated with aromatase inhibitors (AIs), pills that stop the production of estrogen and essentially starve hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells. Some women are advised to take these pills daily for up to 10 years. But as a side effect of this therapy, many women - as many as 50 percent - experience joint pain and stiffness.

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