The Journal of Clinical Oncology has reported a study showing that acupuncture is as good, if not better, for hot flashes in breast cancer patients undergoing therapy. Breast cancer patients are susceptible to hot flashes due to the anti-estrogen medications given, but hormonal replacement is contraindicated. Effexor, an anti-depressant can be effective but does have some side effects. This study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit looked at acupuncture versus Effexor for hot flashes.
(J Clin Oncol. 2010 Apr 20;28(12):1979-81. Walker EM, Rodriguez AI, Kohn B, Ball RM, Pegg J, Pocock JR, Nunez R, Peterson E, Jakary S, Levine RA).

Department of Radiation Oncology, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI 48202, USA. ewalker1@hfhs.org

“PATIENTS AND METHODS: 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 (eg, 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.

There was no inclusion of sham acupuncture in this study, which is always a sticking point for critics (no pun intended), but the results were clear and decisive.