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Acupuncture Reduces Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment As Much As Conventional Drug Therapy E-mail
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Acupuncture is as effective and longer-lasting in managing the common debilitating side effects of hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating (vasomotor symptoms) associated with breast cancer treatment and has no treatment side effects compared to conventional drug therapy, according to a first-of-its-kind study presented September 24, 2008, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's 50th Annual Meeting in Boston.

Findings also show there were additional benefits to acupuncture treatment for breast cancer patients, such as an increased sense of well being, more energy, and in some cases, a higher sex drive, that were not experienced in those patients who underwent drug treatment for their hot flashes.

"Our study shows that physicians and patients have an additional therapy for something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors and actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects. The effect is more durable than a drug commonly used to treat these vasomotor symptoms and, ultimately, is more cost-effective for insurance companies," Eleanor Walker, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the Henry Ford Hospital Department of Radiation Oncology in Detroit, said.

The reduction in hot flashes lasted longer for those breast cancer patients after completing their acupuncture treatment, compared to patients after stopping their drug therapy plan.

Eighty percent of women treated for breast cancer suffer from hot flashes after being treated with chemotherapy and/or anti-estrogen hormones, such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex. Although hormone replacement therapy is typically used to relieve these symptoms, breast cancer patients cannot use this therapy because it may increase the risk of the cancer coming back. As a treatment alternative, patients are generally treated with steroids and/or antidepressant drugs. These drugs, however, have additional side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, constipation and fatigue. The antidepressant, venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is one of the most common drugs used to treat these hot flashes. However, many women decide against this treatment choice because of potential side effects, including decreased libido, insomnia, dizziness and nausea, or because they simply do not want to take any more medications.

The randomized clinical trial compared acupuncture treatment to venlafixine for 12 weeks to find out if acupuncture reduced vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving hormonal therapy and produced fewer side effects than venlafaxine. The study involved 47 breast cancer patients who received either Tamoxifen or Arimidex and had at least 14 hot flashes per week. Results show that acupuncture reduces hot flashes as effectively as venlafaxine, with no side effects, and also provides additional health benefits to patients.

For more information on radiation therapy for breast cancer, visit http://newswise.com/articles/view/544330/www.rtanswers.org.

About Acupuncture

Acupuncture (from Lat. acus, "needle", and pungere, "prick") refers to acupuncture together with moxibustion) is a technique of inserting and manipulating fine filiform needles into specific points on the body with the aim of of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning, including naturally relieving pain. Today's modern acupressure may also include applying heat or electrical stimulation at very precise acupuncture points.

Acupuncture originated in China and is most commonly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Different types of acupuncture (Classical Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Korean acupuncture) are practiced and taught throughout the world.

How acupuncture works according to Chinese lore is that channels of energy called meridians, run in regular patterns through the body and over its surface. These energy channels, flow through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues. When these energy channels are obstructed it is believed to cause pain and illness. The goal of acupuncture is to release these channels allowing energy to properly flow through the body and energize the tissues. It is believed that these meridians can be influenced by needling the acupuncture points; the acupuncture needles unblock the obstructions at the dams, and reestablish the regular flow through the meridians. Acupuncture treatments can therefore help the body's internal organs to correct imbalances in their digestion, absorption, and energy production activities, and in the circulation of their energy through the meridians.

The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body's own internal regulating system. Through either explanation, scientific or classical it is believed that the improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body's natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being.

About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) tumor that starts from cells of the breast. The disease occurs mostly in women, but men can get breast cancer too. In the U.S., it affects one in eight women. There are many types of breast cancer, though some of them are very rare. Sometimes a breast tumor can be a combination of these types and to have a mixture of invasive and in situ cancer. The most common types of breast cancer are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer (85 - 90% of all cases). DCIS means that the cancer is only in the ducts. It has not spread through the walls of the ducts into the tissue of the breast. Nearly all women with cancer at this stage can be cured. Often the best way to find DCIS early is with a mammogram.
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): This condition which occurs in approximately 8% of all cases, begins in the milk-making glands but does not go through the wall of the lobules. Although not a true cancer, having LCIS increases a woman's risk of getting cancer later. For this reason, it's important that women with LCIS to follow the screening guidelines for breast cancer.
Less common are:
  • Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC): This uncommon type of invasive breast cancer accounts for about 1% to 3% of all breast cancers. Usually there is no single lump or tumor. Instead, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) makes the skin of the breast look red and feel warm. It also gives the skin a thick, pitted appearance that looks a lot like an orange peel. Doctors now know that these changes are not caused by inflammation or infection, but by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin. The breast may become larger, firmer, tender, or itchy. IBC is often mistaken for an infection in its early stages. Because there is no defined lump, it may not appear on a mammogram, which may make it even harder to catch it early. It usually has a higher chance of spreading and a worse outlook than invasive ductal or lobular cancer.
  • Paget's disease of the nipple. Paget's disease of the nipple or breast is a rare type of breast cancer, which can occur in women and men. It shows up in and around the nipple, and usually signals the presence of breast cancer beneath the skin. Most cases are found in menopausal women, but can also appear in women that are as young as 20. Early stages symptoms include redness, scaly and flaky, and mild irritation of nipple skin. Advanced stages may include: tingling in nipple skin, very sensitive skin on the nipple, burning or painful nipple skin, ooze or bloody discharge from the nipple (not milk), itchiness that doesn't respond to creams, nipple retraction (pulls into the breast), scaly rash on areola skin, and/or breast lump beneath the affected skin.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer: 
  • a lump or a thickening in the breast or in the armpit. Note Most breast lumps are benign (be-nine); that is, they are not cancer. Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life threatening. But some benign breast lumps can increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Most lumps turn out to be caused by fibrocystic (fi-bro-sis-tik) changes. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs. Fibrosis is the formation of scar-like tissue. Such changes can cause breast swelling and pain. The breasts may feel lumpy, and sometimes there is a clear or slightly cloudy nipple discharge.
  • a change of size or shape of the mature breast
  • fluid (not milk) leaking from the nipple
  • a change of size or shape of the nipple
  • a change of color or texture of the nipple or the areola, or of the skin of the breast itself (dimples, puckers, rash)
  • a discharge from the breast
 
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