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Acupuncture and cancer treatment

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
September 23, 2008 9:20:56 AM PDT
Help is on the way for women battling the side effects from one type of breast cancer treatment.New research shows patients are finding relief in acupuncture.

For some women, the side effects of breast cancer treatment are a major problem. This study looked at women taking anti-estrogen therapy, with side effects that may include very uncomfortable hot flashes and night sweats.

The question is what works better to minimize these side effects, an anti-depressant or acupuncture?

Wendy Sayvetz is not surprised to hear that acupuncture is effective in reducing side effects of breast cancer treatment. Diagnosed in February, she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

"I have used acupuncture to help lessen the side effects of chemotherapy," she said. "I was able to work two, two and a half weeks out of every three weeks."

The new study looked at 47 women taking anti-estrogen treatment for breast cancer, either Tamoxifen or Arimidex. All suffered at least 14 hot flashes per week. To relieve the symptoms, about half took the standard treatment, the anti-depressant Effexor. The others got acupuncture.

"The study showed that the acupuncture was more effective in relieving symptoms such as hot flashes in selected women," said Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum Smith, of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

But women on the anti-depressant reported side effects, such as nausea, dry mouth and headaches. With acupuncture, there were no negative side effects and increased energy, even after treatment ended. Yet Dr. Rosenbaum Smith urges caution.

"This was a very, very small study," she said. "It only looked at 47 women. Also, the side effects of hot flashes is a very subjective finding."

Sayvetz starts taking tamoxifen in January, and is prepared to get more acupuncture if needed.

"You have to do so many invasive things to cure a condition like this that it can be overwhelming," she said. "And it relly helps to do something like acupuncture, because it just makes you feel good."

It was a small, 12-week study that was done at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and will be presented Wednesday at a meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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