Cancer Patients Feel Better When Treated by Real Or Sham Acupuncture

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Both real and sham acupuncture treatments may help alleviate side effects of drugs commonly used to treat breast cancer.

Published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings may improve care for cancer patients.

The results also raise the question of whether sham acupuncture is truly inert or may, like real acupuncture, have beneficial effects.

Ting Bao, of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, and her colleagues recruited 47 breast cancer survivors suffering from joint or muscle discomfort for a clinical trial.

About half of the patients received eight weekly acupuncture treatments and the other half received a kind of fake or sham acupuncture that involved non-penetrating retractable needles.

Both groups experienced lessening of their symptoms, especially hot flashes, but there was little difference in benefits between the real acupuncture and the sham acupuncture.

“It could be that there is no difference, or it could be that in this small trial we just didn’t have enough patients to detect a significant difference,” Dr Bao said.

No patients experienced any significant side effects from either type of acupuncture treatment.

“This is important because other treatments for symptoms often do have side effects, so showing that this treatment works without side effects could be a big improvement in the treatment of cancer survivors,” she said.

Although the researchers did not plan to look at racial differences, after the trial was completed they found that women who were African American experienced a greater reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes if they had real acupuncture rather than sham acupuncture.

“This kind of result is not definitive, but it does suggest that we should probably look further into the possibility that acupuncture may work better in some ethnicity groups than others,” Dr Bao said.

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