Hot flashes are brief episodes of flushing, sweating, increase in the heartbeat and sensations of heat. How hot flashes arise is still not known, though they are closely associated with decreased levels of the primary female sex hormone estrogen. It is a common side effect of breast cancer therapies. A new study has revealed acupuncture may be a viable treatment for women experiencing hot flashes as a result of breast cancer therapies.
Lead author Jun Mao, associate professor at Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania in the US, said, "Though most people associate hot flashes with menopause, the episodes also affect many breast cancer survivors who have low estrogen levels and often undergo premature menopause, following treatment with chemotherapy or surgery. These latest results clearly show promise for managing hot flashes experienced by breast cancer survivors through the use of acupuncture."
For the study, the research team enrolled 120 breast cancer survivors, all of whom reported experiencing multiple hot flashes per day. The researchers analyzed how effectively an acupuncture technique known as electroacupuncture, in which embedded needles deliver weak electrical currents, reduces incidents of hot flashes as compared to the epilepsy drug gabapentin, which was previously shown to be effective in reducing hot flashes for these patients.
After an eight-week treatment period, the study participants in the electroacupuncture group showed the greatest improvement in a standard measure of hot flash frequency and severity, known as the hot flash composite score (HFCS). Besides reporting the greatest reductions in hot flash frequency/severity, participants who received acupuncture reported fewer side effects than those who took the pill.
The study appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.