Acupuncture is effective in relieving joint pain, a common side effect seen in a class of drugs used to treat breast cancer, according to a new study. Musculoskeletal symptoms are the most common adverse effects of aromatase inhibitors and can be so severe that they cause some women to stop using the treatment altogether.
Over the course of 6 years, researchers analyzed 226 postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer. All were taking aromatase inhibitors and experiencing joint pain. Common aromatase inhibitors include Arimidex (anastrozole), Aromasin (exemestane) and Femara (letrozole).
Participants were divided into 3 groups: acupuncture, sham acupuncture and control. Participants in the acupuncture groups received 2 sessions each week for 6 weeks, followed by 1 session per week for 6 weeks. The control group received no interventions.
To determine whether the acupuncture was effective, researchers used the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI). This 14-item questionnaire asked individuals to rate their joint pain over the prior week and the degree to which the pain interfered with activities using a 0- to 10-point scale. For this study, it was the “worst pain” category of the BPI that received the most attention, which signifies the worst pain experienced within a 24-hour time frame. All the women ranked 3 or above before the trial began.
The results, published in JAMA, indicated that the BPI worst pain score for the women in the acupuncture group decreased by an average of 2.05 points, in the sham acupuncture group by 1.07 points, and in the control group by 0.99 points at the 6-week mark.
“Among postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer and aromatase inhibitor–related arthralgias (joint pain), true acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture or with waitlist control, resulted in a statistically significant reduction in joint pain at 6 weeks, although the observed improvement was of uncertain clinical importance,” researchers said.