Acupuncture's Positive Effect on Breast Cancer Patients Suffering from Joint Pain

For some survivors of certain breast cancers, a treatment to prevent recurrence leads to joint pain so severe that they choose to stop taking the drug. But researchers now advise better ways to cope: getting more exercise or trying acupuncture, as reported in the CURE TODAY.

The drugs in question are known as aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and are often used after primary treatment, such as surgery, to help prevent recurrence in postmenopausal survivors who have estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers. But for about half of the women who take them, they do so at a painful price — a side effect known as arthralgia, or joint pain and stiffness.

Dawn Hershman, MD, MS, director of the breast cancer program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, was one of the experts quoted in the article, who said that arthralgia is one of the most common reasons women discontinue taking AI drugs. The article spotlighted promising evidence that supports two medication-free methods for managing arthralgia discomfort: exercise and acupuncture. 

The article cited Dr. Hershman’s recent study, published in JAMA, which found that women who received true acupuncture had less joint pain after six weeks compared with those in the sham acupuncture and control groups. (Sham is the use of shallow insertion of needles at nonacupuncture points.) Dr. Hershman, who also is a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC),  said that not only did participants who received true acupuncture have less pain after six weeks of treatment, they also had reduced joint stiffness — and those effects persisted throughout the 24-week intervention.

“Our goal as practitioners is to help patients stay on medications that are effective,” Hershman added. “Acupuncture has low toxicity and provides benefit to some. It gives us something different to offer to patients who are suffering.”

Dr. Hershman is professor of medicine and epidemiology at CUIMC and has developed nationally recognized expertise in breast cancer treatment, prevention and survivorship.

For the full story, visit CURE TODAY