Surviving Hot Flashes…After Surviving Breast Cancer

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Needles beat pills for treating hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, according to a new trial that compared acupuncture, “sham” acupuncture, the medication gabapentin and a placebo pill.

Interestingly, sham acuptuncture came in second place for effectiveness, the researchers said.

Furthermore, the effects of acupuncture were “significant and enduring for hot flashes while gabapentin’s effect only happened when a patient was taking the medication,” said study first author Dr. Jun Mao, an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The study was published Aug. 24 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Mao and his colleagues tested the treatments in 120 women who were breast cancer survivors. The women were enduring hot flashes at least twice a day.

Thirty women each received real acupuncture that also included a bit of an electric buzz or the inactive placebo pill, 32 women got sham acupuncture, and 28 women received gabapentin (Neurontin). The drug is typically used to treat seizures and nerve pain.

The women documented their hot flashes in diaries, noting frequency and severity, for 8 weeks of treatment, and then continued to keep track of their hot flashes up to 24 weeks total. The investigators used a hot flash score to see how much frequency and severity changed from when the study started to what the women reported at 8, 12 and 24 weeks.

Acupuncture had the greatest effect on overall hot flash scores at 8 weeks, when all interventions ended, followed by sham acupuncture and then gabapentin. At 24 weeks, 16 weeks after treatments ended, acupuncture was still associated with the greatest reduction in hot flashes. But even those who had sham acupuncture or placebo pills had steeper drops in hot flash scores at 24 weeks than those who took gabapentin.

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