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03-03-2010 | Oncology | Article

Acupuncture ‘promising’ for aromatase inhibitor-related joint pain


Free abstract

MedWire News: A 6-week course of acupuncture therapy improves joint pain, stiffness, and functional ability in women with aromatase inhibitor (AI)-induced arthralgia, study findings indicate.

In contrast, no significant benefits were observed in women randomly assigned to receive sham acupuncture (SA), the researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“With the increasing use of long-term AI therapy in the adjuvant setting, AI-induced arthralgia is becoming a major issue for breast cancer survivors,” remark Dawn Hershman (Columbia University, New York, USA) and colleagues.

To examine whether acupuncture improves AI-induced arthralgias, Hershman and team compared twice-weekly true acupuncture (TA) with SA for 6 weeks in postmenopuasal women with early-stage breast cancer who had self-reported musculoskeletal pain related to AIs.

In total, 20 women completed the course of TA and 18 completed the SA course. At baseline, and again after 3 and 6 weeks of treatment, the women completed questionnaires that captured joint pain, stiffness, and functional status in the knees (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index [WOMAC]) and hands (Modified Score for the Assessment and Quantification of Chronic Rheumatoid Affections of the Hands [M-SACRAH]), as well as a general pain scale used in cancer patients (BPI-SF).

The researchers report that the mean pain scores were comparable between the two groups at baseline. However, after 6 weeks of treatment, women in the TA group had a significantly lower BPI-SF worst pain scorethan women in the SA group, at 3.0 versus 5.5. This corresponded to a 50% improvement in scores compared with baseline for the TA group.

Pain severity (2.6 vs 4.5) and pain-related interference (2.5 vs 4.5) were also significantly lower in the TA group compared with the SA group at 6 weeks. Similar findings were observed for the WOMAC and M-SACRAH scores, where the TA group had up to a 70% decrease in scores compared with baseline.

Hershman and co-authors conclude: “Our study suggests that acupuncture is a promising nonpharmacologic modality for relieving AI-related joint pain and stiffness.”

They add: “Its widespread use, however, is limited due to lack of insurance coverage for this therapy. Efforts should be aimed at improving access to this promising treatment.”

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Laura Dean

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