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Acupuncture can Improve Life Quality for Certain Breast Cancer Patients

Update Date: Jul 30, 2014 11:54 AM EDT

According to a new study, electroacupuncture can improve the quality of life for patients with early stage breast cancer who are being treated with aromatase inhibitors. The researchers reported that the therapy, which sends a small electric current through the body via needles, improved the patients' fatigue, anxiety and depression scores.

"Since many patients experience pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression simultaneously, our results provide an opportunity to offer patients one treatment that may target multiple symptoms," said lead author Jun Mao, MD MSCE, associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health in Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, reported in the press release. "We see patients every day who are looking for ways to combat some of the side effects of their treatment. What is particularly significant about these new results is that we can now offer more evidence-based treatment and management solutions for these women."

For this study, the researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an eight-week long, randomized, placebo-controlled trial that tested the effectiveness of electroacupunture in comparison to sham acupuncture and usual care. In the sham acupuncture treatment, the researchers used non-electric needles that were not actually inserted into the skin. All of the patients were on aromatase inhibitors and were experiencing joint pain. Prior to the study, the researchers measured the patients' levels of fatigue, anxiety and depression.

The researchers measured fatigue using the Brief Fatigue Inventory, which included a scale ranging from 0-10. At week eight, patients who received electroacupuncture had an average reduction of two points in comparison to patients on usual care. This reduction in fatigue was still noticeable at week 12.

Anxiety was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). At week 12, people on electroacupuncture had greater improvements in their anxiety score in comparison to people from the other two treatment groups.

For depression, the researchers found that patients from both of the acupuncture groups had improvements in their HADS-Depression score at week eight in comparison to people from the usual care group. The effects in both groups were still significant at week 12.

"Our study provides a novel understanding of how fatigue, sleep and psychological distress relate to pain in patients with AI-related joint pain. More importantly, we found that acupuncture helped reduce these symptoms and the effects persisted for at least four weeks following treatment," said Mao. "There is a small but growing body of literature showing that acupuncture is effective for the management of pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression. However, studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are needed to provide more in-depth knowledge about how these treatments, combined with usual care, are improving quality of life for our patients."

The study, "Electroacupuncture for fatigue, sleep, and psychological distress in breast cancer patients with aromatase inhibitor-related arthralgia: A randomized trial," was published in the journal, Cancer.

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