Acupuncture may represent an effective adjuvant therapy in the management of joint pain associated with aromatase inhibitor treatment in postmenopausal women with breast cancer, according to results from a multicenter trial presented at the 2017 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium held December 5-9.

For this trial, investigators randomly assigned postmenopausal patients with breast cancer to receive true acupuncture (TA; n=110), sham acupuncture (SA; n=59), or waitlist control (WC; n=57). For the TA and SA protocols, interventions were administered over a 12-week period, with 12 sessions over 6 weeks followed by 1 session/week for an additional 6 weeks. Primary end point used in this study was the change in the Brief Pain Inventory worst pain (BPI-WP) score at 6 weeks.

The BPI-WP scores were lower at 6 weeks in the TA vs SA group (95% CI, 0.20-1.65; P =.01) and in the TA vs WC group (0.96 point difference; 95% CI, 0.24-1.67; P =.01). A greater percentage of patients receiving TA experienced a clinical reduction in BPI-WP scores vs patients receiving SA and WC (58% vs 33% and 31%, respectively).

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In addition, patients receiving TA experienced greater improvement at 6 weeks in average pain (P =.04), pain interference (P =.02), pain severity (P =.05), and worst stiffness (P =.02), compared with the SA group. Also, participants in the TA group experienced greater symptom improvement at 6 and 12 weeks as assessed with the Modified Score for the Assessment of Chronic Rheumatoid Affections of the Hands and the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (P <.05). Researchers observed significantly more Grade 1 bruising events in the TA vs the SA group (47% vs 25%, respectively; P =.01).

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According to a published statement by said Dawn L. Hershman, MD, the leader of the Breast Cancer Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, “We hope that these data will not only encourage health care practitioners to discuss acupuncture as a complementary therapy for patients receiving aromatase inhibitors, but that they will also enhance payers’ willingness to reimburse these patients for acupuncture.”

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Hershman DL, Unger JM, Greenlee H, et al. Randomized blinded sham- and waitlist-controlled trial of acupuncture for joint symptoms related to aromatase inhibitors in women with early stage breast cancer. Presented at: San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2017. December 5-9, 2017, San Antonio, Texas. Abstract S1200.