Acupuncture and Eastern Medicine Support Breast Cancer Treatments
Researchers are looking at acupuncture and its potential benefits from every possible angle. While much more research is needed, acupuncture already shows real results with a variety of medical conditions.
Let’s take a look at how acupuncture can help some women diagnosed with breast cancer. Specifically, how acupuncture can support western cancer treatments and improve their efficacy.
Some Breast Cancers are Characterized by the Way They Interact With Hormones
There are many types of breast cancers, and one way that oncologists categorize them is by the hormones they use to fuel growth. There are numerous breast cancers that use hormones to accelerate cell growth and reproduction, and oncologists can identify which cancer is which by the hormone receptors they express.
This categorization is essential and influences which treatments to prescribe. For hormone sensitive breast cancers that use estrogen for growth, a proven frontline treatment is an aromatase inhibitor.
Breast Cancer Medications Can Be Highly Effective, but Come with Side Effects
Aromatase is the enzyme responsible for converting other hormones into estrogen. In people with certain hormone-sensitive breast cancers, aromatase accelerates tumor growth as it produces more and more estrogen.
Aromatase inhibitors prevent this hormone conversion reaction from taking place by reducing the amount of available aromatase in the blood. A few standout aromatase inhibitors include:
These medications have a powerful track record in breast cancer treatment. Research shows that aromatase inhibitors like the above do two things. One, they reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the short term – within a year of treatment. Two, they reduce mortality due to breast cancer – they extend the patient’s life, in other words.
As encouraging as this is, it’s still difficult for many women to complete their aromatase inhibitor treatment. A typical course of treatment is about five years – a long time for any type of treatment – and there are side effects.
The most notable adverse effects associated with aromatase inhibitors are musculoskeletal in origin. Over the course of treatment, about 50 percent of women will experience the following side effects to a moderate or severe degree:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Bone pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Among patients who take aromatase inhibitors and experience side effects, 1/3 are not able to finish treatment due to those effects. That’s troubling, as aromatase inhibitors are powerful weapons against breast cancer.
Fortunately, eastern medicine – acupuncture and herbal therapy most notable among them – can provide support for breast cancer patients taking aromatase inhibitors.
The Medical Research Linking Acupuncture and Joint Pain Relief
Acupuncture has been studied for a huge array of pain conditions, including joint pain conditions. Some of the strongest positive research available on acupuncture is for pain-related conditions, and its pain-relieving capabilities may also be useful for breast cancer patients.
In fact, a high-quality study published in 2018 specifically looked at the link between acupuncture and pain relief in women taking aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and looked at 226 women suffering from hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
The women were divided into three groups. The first (50 percent of the total trial group) was an experimental group that received true acupuncture at noted pain relief acupuncture points. The second (25 percent of the total) received “sham” acupuncture, which is acupuncture delivered at incorrect acupuncture points or acupuncture that involves zero needle insertion. The third group (25 percent of the total) was a control group placed on a waiting list.
The researchers tracked pain levels through patient surveys. The patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale from 1 to 10, and surveys were conducted twice. The first survey was just prior to treatment and established a baseline for each person. The second survey was conducted six weeks following the end of treatment.
What the researchers found was highly encouraging. At the six-week follow-up period, the group that received true acupuncture lowered their pain scores by two points, on average. This result held true no matter how high patients rated their baseline pain. This was a greater improvement than the sham group or control group experienced.
Though it’s just one study, it confirms what licensed acupuncturists and their patients are already saying about acupuncture – that it works for pain.
Combining Acupuncture With Herbal Therapy and Individualized Treatments Can Enhance Efficacy
Regarding the study above, there were still a couple of limitations that, if removed, could help patients achieve even better results. For example:
- Adding herbal therapy to acupuncture can boost pain-relieving effects – Eastern medicine practitioners regularly incorporate beneficial botanicals into their treatment regimens. Many of these botanicals have demonstrable pain-relieving and anti-anxiety effects, both of which can offset the physical and emotional toll that comes with pain.
- Individualizing treatment for the patient could also produce better results – In this area, eastern medicine differs from western medicine a bit. Eastern medical practitioners tailor their treatment recommendations to the individual. The goal here is to examine the patient, gather information that the patient’s body is offering, and use this information to develop a targeted treatment regimen. By tailoring treatment in this way, the practitioner supports the patient’s health in areas where it is most compromised, restoring balance and optimal function.
These are simple adjustments for a licensed Houston practitioner to make, so even though the study’s conclusions are exciting – they may understate what a licensed Houston acupuncturist could do for a particular patient.
Breast Cancer Medications Can Save Lives, and Eastern Medicine Can Help Patients Better Tolerate Them
Western medications have improved the outlook for many breast cancer patients, but those medications can be extremely difficult to tolerate. It leaves many patients with a terrible choice – maximize quality of life or maximize longevity.
Houston Acupuncture, herbal therapy, and other eastern modalities are making the decision a little easier for breast cancer patients. For thousands of years, eastern medicine has been used to balance health and bodily function. Those benefits can be especially valuable for women aggressively fighting back against their breast cancer.