Women diagnosed with breast cancer who are taking aromatase inhibitors to prevent disease recurrence may get relief from joint pain associated with the drugs through acupuncture procedures, according to a study presented here at the 2017 Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).
In a clinical trial that included a sham acupuncture treatment and a waitlist control group, women who were receiving the traditional Chinese treatment had a significant reduction in pain, reported Dawn Hershman, MD, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbia University, New York, New York, on December 7.
“Acupuncture provided a nonpharmacological option that can improve symptoms and possibly increase aromatase inhibitor adherence and subsequent breast cancer outcomes,” she said.
The researchers enrolled 226 women (mean age, ~60 years; 88% white) into the study. About half of the women received prior chemotherapy, and they were on aromatase inhibitors for ~1 year before enrolling in the trial.
A total of 110 patients were assigned to acupuncture sessions twice a week for 6 weeks and then once a week for 6 weeks, and 59 patients were given a sham procedure; 57 control patients were assigned to a waitlist.
In the sham procedure, shallowly inserted thin and short needles were placed at non-acupuncture points.
To be eligible for the study, the women had to report experiencing pain at level of 3 on a 10-point visual analogue scale.
After 6 weeks of acupuncture therapy, 58% of patients, versus 33% of patients receiving a sham procedure, reported a 2-point change in pain scores (P< .009). The pain relief was also observed among the acupuncture patients compared with that of the waitlist control population; ~30% of the women on the waitlist reported a 2-point reduction in pain scores (P< .004).
The main adverse event experienced by the acupuncture patients was grade 1 bruising at the points where acupuncture needles were inserted, which occurred in 47% of patients receiving acupuncture and 25% of patients getting the sham procedure (P = .01).
Although acupuncture treatments were stopped at 12 weeks, an effect was still seen at 24 weeks, said Dr. Hershman. After the 24-week trial, the patients on the waitlist were offered true acupuncture.
Dr. Hershman concluded that the improvements seen in the study provide “sufficient evidence to support insurance coverage of acupuncture for aromatase inhibitor arthralgia.”
Presentation title: Randomized Blinded Sham- and Waitlist-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture for Joint Symptoms Related to Aromatase Inhibitors in Women With Early Stage Breast Cancer (S1200). Abstract GS4-04