Acupuncture for Breast Cancer Survivors

Acupuncture for Breast Cancer Survivors

Every week,I get emails from Practice Update, an online resource for health care professionals that highlights up-to-date research that will directly impact patient care. In the field of naturopathic medicine, it is always an exciting moment for me when a treatment option has been validated with more rigorous research. Within this last month, a paper was released showing the benefit of acupuncture in breast cancer survivors in a randomized controlled trial compared to no treatment.

One of the notorious therapies causing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) involves the use of taxanes (i.e. paclitaxol, docetaxol), which are commonly used alongside other chemotherapy medications when chemotherapy is indicated in breast cancer patients. Currently, conventional therapy doesn’t have much to offer patients who experience neuropathic symptoms other than dose reduction when symptoms become unmanageable or nonspecific medication to control neuropathic pain. For some women, unfortunately, peripheral neuropathy can extend beyond the given treatment and cause changes to their quality of life despite their breast-cancer-free status.

There is a lot of evidence for acupuncture in a variety of conditions including:
▫️Chronic pain
▫️Post-traumatic stress disorder
▫️Substance abuse
▫️Fertility support
▫️Peripheral neuropathy from diabetes, carpal tunnel, Bell’s palsy, idiopathic conditions

….but in terms of acupuncture x breast cancer x taxane-related peripheral neuropathy, the number of research articles start to dwindle…

Now, let’s talk about the article!

40 women with stage I-III breast cancer with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy after receiving taxane chemotherapy were randomly assigned into one of 2 groups. In the acupuncture group, the women received 18 sessions of acupuncture over an 8-week course compared to the control group who were not receiving any treatment:

After 8 weeks, compared to the waitlist control group, those in the acupuncture group:
✳️ Reduction in CIPN sensory symptoms
✳️ Improved quality of life (almost 50% in acupuncture group compared to 5% in the control group!)
✳️ Greater reduction in pain severity

That being said, one of the aspects of this study that was not controlled (among other things) was how long ago the patients received chemotherapy treatment — this is important because depending on when they received their treatment, their exposure and therefore, manifestation of CIPN may change. Even though the population used in this study was small (only 40 people), acupuncture does show some promise and having these small randomized controlled trials lay the foundation for larger studies. Looking forward to seeing more!

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