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Acupuncture relieves hot flashes in women using hormones for breast cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New findings show that women who take hormones for breast cancer treatment reported fewer hot flashes from acupuncture treatments, more energy, and improved mental clarity. The effects of acupuncture for hot flashes associated with breast cancer treatment also persisted for three months, offering an alternative to drug therapy.

The researchers compared the effect of medication to acupuncture. Fifty women were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture treatments or venlafaxine (Effexor), the drug most commonly used to treat hot flashes associated with breast cancer treatment.

The researchers decided to study acupuncture for its benefits to women with breast cancer because of the success of the treatment in for post menopausal hot flashes.

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"Acupuncture offers patients a safe, effective and durable treatment option for hot flashes, something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors. Compared to drug therapy, acupuncture actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects," says study lead author Eleanor Walker, M.D., division director of breast services in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital.

The study was conducted for twelve weeks. Women took 37.5 mg of venlafaxine for one week, then 75 mg for the remaining 11 weeks. The acupuncture group received therapy twice weekly for four weeks, then once a week for eight weeks. Both groups stopped treatment after twelve weeks and were followed for one year.

Initially, both groups had a fifty percent reduction in hot flashes and symptoms of depression, but the women treated with venlafaxine experienced significant increase in hot flash recurrence after two weeks. The acupuncture group did not have hot flashes for three months.

Women who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer take hormones for an average of five years as part of conventional breast cancer treatment. Hormones cause hot flashes, and can interfere with qualify of life. Venlafaxine side effects include nausea, constipation, lack of appetite, and dry mouth. The study showed that acupuncture was as effective as the drug venlafaxine, but the effects after stopping treatment were longer lasting.