In a study released in March, new research from Italy reveals that women experiencing hot flashes as a result of breast cancer treatment see a significant reduction in hot flash frequency when they receive regular acupuncture treatments.
An earlier study, conducted in England, concludes that for breast cancer patients, “Acupuncture is an effective intervention for managing the symptom of CRF [cancer-related fatigue] and improving patients’ quality of life.”
Thanks to small studies such as these, acupuncture has gradually been gaining credence in America as a vetted, proven treatment for various health conditions — including cancer side effects. But how many of us have actually tried acupuncture?
I contacted my online breast cancer support group to find out.
Melanie said, “I did acupuncture once a week during chemo. It is hard to tell what produced results at that time, but I did not have nausea, was able to keep walking (slowly) every day, and generally made it through the months of treatment with minimal symptoms.”
Karen noted, “I have tried it [acupuncture] since my mastectomy and it toned down significantly or eliminated the hot flashes for me. In fact, it is the only thing that worked for me. Initially, I was having up to 20 or 30 a day of unbearable hot flashes. I think I went three times and it was such a relief to have them gone or [made] minor.”
What is acupuncture, anyway?
As Westerners, many of us consider forms of medicine other than our own to be hocus-pocus — treatments and remedies that are not to be trusted. After all, what’s the science behind herbal remedies? And where’s the FDA approval of qigong?
Yet many women who’ve tried acupuncture to treat hot flashes (and other breast cancer treatment side effects) have come away enthusiastic supporters.
Witness Susan, who reported getting acupuncture for hot flashes: “It was one of the best things I ever did…. I experienced sleep problems … as well as hot flashes, interruption in dependable stamina, and more. I decided to go [for acupuncture] regularly. I was treated 2 times a week for maybe four weeks, and then weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. It helped with all my symptoms. It made my life better.”
What do acupuncturists say?
Judy Music is a northern New England breast cancer survivor who has also practiced acupuncture. “I was an acupuncturist/Chinese herbal medicine practitioner until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. As soon as possible after the diagnosis, I booked weekly appointments with an acupuncturist…. Over my decades of practice I treated hundreds of people undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Since I am permanently retired and have no financial or other stake in this field any more, I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you acupuncture works very, very well with nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. It also relieves pain — sometimes by quite a bit. Acupuncture also works well to promote stamina and sleep.”
I asked Diana Di Gioia, a licensed acupuncturist in Massachusetts, about acupuncture as a treatment for hot flashes.
She responded, “I've been practicing acupuncture for 20 years here on Cape Cod, the past 10 as a ‘Community Acupuncturist.’ Over that period of time I've treated lots of women with menopausal symptoms, including sleep trouble, anxiety, hot flashes and night sweats.
“The majority of the time, regular acupuncture for a period of 6-8 weeks is able to improve symptoms substantially. In a few cases, just a few treatments have almost completely resolved the hot flashes. In most cases, the acupuncture makes hot flashes less severe, less frequent, and more tolerable.”
If you’re suffering from breast cancer treatment side effects and your oncologist’s prescriptions and suggestions haven’t given you sufficient relief, acupuncture is worth considering.
If Western-style skepticism is holding you back, the National Institutes of Health began evaluating acupuncture as a complementary therapy for cancer symptoms back in 1997, tracking ongoing studies both in this country and around the world. And the National Cancer Institute reports that while all of these studies have been small, and more research is needed, acupuncture seems to improve immune response, may help control lymphedema, and reduces fatigue, pain, nausea, and vomiting, as well as relieving depression and improving sleep.
So what are you waiting for?
See More Helpful Articles:
A Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment
A Guide to Survivorship: Life After Treatment
Cooling Down Hot Flashes: Is HRT Safe For You?
Breast Cancer: From Killer to Chronic Condition
"Acupuncture." National Cancer Institute. November 20, 2015. Accessed May 21, 2016. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/acupuncture-pdq#link/_57.Molassiotis, Alexander. "Journal of Clinical Oncology." Acupuncture for Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients With Breast Cancer: A Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial. July 26, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2016. http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2012/10/29/JCO.2012.41.6222.abstract.
Razzini, Giorgia. "Journal of Clinical Oncology." Acupuncture as an Integrative Approach for the Treatment of Hot Flashes in Women With Breast Cancer: A Prospective Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial (AcCliMaT). March 28, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016. http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2016/03/23/JCO.2015.63.2893.abstract.
Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.