A new study says that acupuncture could be an effective therapy for joint pain and stiffness in breast cancer patients who are being treated with commonly used hormonal therapies.
Joint pain and stiffness are common side effects of aromatase inhibitor therapy, in which the synthesis of estrogen is blocked.
Researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, led the new study.
It was previously shown that the therapy, which is a common and effective treatment for early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in post-menopausal women, causes some joint pain and stiffness in half of women being treated.
"Since aromatase inhibitors have become an increasingly popular treatment option for some breast cancer patients, we aimed to find a non-drug option to manage the joint issues they often create, thereby improving quality of life and reducing the likelihood that patients would discontinue this potentially life-saving treatment," said Dr. Dawn Hershman, senior author of the paper.
To explore the effects of acupuncture on aromatase inhibitor-associated joint pain, researchers randomly assigned 43 women to receive either true acupuncture or sham acupuncture twice a week for six weeks.
Sham acupuncture, which was used to control for a potential placebo effect, involved superficial needle insertion at body points not recognized as true acupuncture points.
All participants were receiving an aromatase inhibitor for early breast cancer, and all had reported musculoskeletal pain.
In women treated with true acupuncture, it was shown that they experienced significant improvement in joint pain and stiffness over the course of the study.
Pain severity declined, and overall physical well being improved.
In addition, 20 percent of the patients who had reported taking pain relief medications reported that they no longer needed to take these medications following acupuncture treatment.
However, no such improvements were reported in women who were treated with the sham acupuncture.
"This study suggests that acupuncture may help women manage the joint pain and stiffness that can accompany aromatase inhibitor treatment," said Dr. Katherine D. Crew, first author of the paper.
"To our knowledge, this is the first randomized, placebo-controlled trial establishing that acupuncture may be an effective method to relieve joint problems caused by these medications. However, results still need to be confirmed in larger, multicenter studies," she added.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.