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Acupuncture as effective as drug therapy for vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial

Introduction:  Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes or night sweats) are common adverse effects of antiestrogen hormone treatment in conventional breast cancer care. Hormone replacement therapy is contraindicated in patients with breast cancer. Venlafaxine (Effexor), the therapy of choice for these symptoms, has numerous adverse effects. Recent studies suggest acupuncture may be effective in reducing vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women. This randomized controlled trial conducted in Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, USA tested whether acupuncture reduces vasomotor symptoms and produces fewer adverse effects than venlafaxine.

Patients and treatments:  Fifty patients were randomly assigned to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture (n=25) or venlafaxine (n=25) treatment. Health outcomes were measured for up to 1 year post-treatment.

Results:  Both groups exhibited significant decreases in hot flashes, depressive symptoms, and other quality-of-life symptoms, including significant improvements in mental health from pre- to post-treatment. These changes were similar in both groups, indicating that acupuncture was as effective as venlafaxine. By 2 weeks post-treatment, the venlafaxine group experienced significant increases in hot flashes, whereas hot flashes in the acupuncture group remained at low levels. The venlafaxine group experienced 18 incidences of adverse effects (nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety), whereas the acupuncture group experienced no negative adverse effects. Acupuncture had the additional benefit of increased sex drive in some women, and most reported an improvement in their energy, clarity of thought, and sense of well-being.

Conclusion:  Acupuncture appears to be equivalent to drug therapy in these patients. It is a safe, effective and durable treatment for vasomotor symptoms secondary to long-term antiestrogen hormone use in patients with breast cancer.

Source:  Walker EM, et al. Acupuncture versus venlafaxine for the management of vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2010;28:634-640.

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