According to a well designed study presented at the 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium acupuncture is effective in reducing pain and stiffness associated with aromatase inhibitor (AI) therapy in women with early-stage breast cancer.1

Stiffness and joint pain is a well documented concern of women undergoing AI therapy for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer that may contribute to non-compliance or the discontinuation of treatment.

Understanding Acupuncture

In order to formally evaluate acupuncture as a treatment of AI associated joint pain researchers designed and completed a clinical trail to be performed in women with early stage breast cancer taking a third-generation AI and experiencing joint pain. The study enrolled 226 patients who were treated with one of the following approaches:

  • True acupuncture: a 30- to 45-minute session including a full body, auricular, and joint-specific acupuncture protocol tailored to the most painful joints.
  • Sham acupuncture: shallow needle insertion with thin, short needles at 4 standardized non-acupuncture points.
  • Waitlist control: patients were under the impression they would receive true acupuncture following the 24-week trial.

The study revealed that following 6 weeks of treatment pain decreased significantly in the “true acupuncture” treated women compared to the “sham acupuncture” and “waitlist control” groups. True acupuncture also demonstrated a greater proportion of patients reporting clinically meaningful reductions in the severity of pain.

The study confirms that acupuncture provides a safe and effective alternative treatment that can relieve joint symptoms and possibly increase AI adherence in women with early stage breast cancer.

What Other Symptoms can Acupuncture Relieve?

Reference: Hershman DL, Unger JM, Greenlee H, et al. Randomized blinded sham- and waitlist-controlled trial of acupuncture for joint symptoms related to aromatase inhibitors in women with early stage breast cancer (S1200). Presented at: 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium; Dec. 5-9, 2017; San Antonio, TX. Abstract GS4-04.