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Acupuncture for Breast Cancer and Related Pain

Updated on September 30, 2010

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that can be used to treat a number of different medical conditions. Needles are inserted into different points in the body to relieve pressure, redirect energy and promote healing. Although this is a form of alternative medicine, it is something that has been widely studied for its applications in treating modern medical conditions. One of the most recent studies related to acupuncture shows that this ancient healing art might be useful in treating patients who are suffering from breast cancer.

Of course, patients are not going to have their breast cancer cured with acupuncture. Cancer is a serious disease that requires a lot of intensive treatment as a cure. However, the treatment itself can be almost as awful as the cancer. Breast cancer treatment can cause many different types of pain. In certain women, breast cancer treatment causes the body to tense up and the joints to experience a high level of pain. That’s where acupuncture comes in. The new study shows that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for relieving this joint pain and making breast cancer treatment more comfortable for these women. This may make patients more likely to continue their treatments and solve their breast cancer problem.

More about breast cancer and joint pain

What you have to understand is that there are many different treatments for breast cancer. One of the most popular treatments these days is a form of treatment called aromatase inhibitor therapy. It is a form of treatment that is useful in treating breast cancer in women who have already gone through menopause.

This form of therapy works by stopping the production of estrogen in the body. A certain enzyme (aromatase) is blocked by the inhibitors. The result is that there is less estrogen available in the body. Estrogen stimulates the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells. With less estrogen, the growth of those cells can’t take place. This is considered the best hormone therapy available to post-menopausal patients who have breast cancer.

Unfortunately, there is a major drawback of aromatase inhibitor therapy for certain patients. Women often suffer from joint pain as a result of this therapy. This joint pain is caused by the way that this therapy affects estrogen in the body. The very thing that the inhibitors cure also causes pain. Finding an effective way to treat the pain is a crucial part of making this treatment more suitable for the women who need it.

Using acupuncture to relieve joint pain

There are many options for patients to deal with the joint pain that is caused by their breast cancer treatment. Pain medication is the most obvious choice. However, an increasing number of patients are interested in alternative non-drug methods of pain management. That’s where acupuncture can come in. Acupuncture can relieve the joint pain in the body in a non-drug, non-surgical way. This new study has proven that patients receiving acupuncture treatments see a significant decrease in their levels of pain associated with the breast cancer treatment. They may even be able to discontinue other forms of pain medication because the acupuncture treatments are enough of a cure.

More about the research

This research was conducted by researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. The researchers were particularly interested in finding a non-drug, non-surgical method of treating joint pain because they had noticed that the joint pain sometimes caused patients to discontinue their breast cancer treatment. This treatment can save patient’s lives but they were discontinuing it due to the pain. If acupuncture could treat the pain then they would be less likely to discontinue treatment. That was the hope that they had going in to this research study.

The study examined over three dozen different women who were patients of the aromatase inhibitor therapy. All of these women had complained that they were experiencing joint pain as a result of this breast cancer treatment. Half of the women received real acupuncture treatments for this pain whereas the other half received placebo treatments. What is a placebo treatment for acupuncture? They had acupuncture needles inserted into them but they were inserted at points on the body that are not associated with acupuncture points. The study lasted for six weeks with patients being treated for their pain approximately twice per week. The goal, of course, was to determine whether or not the acupuncture had a real effect on improving the pain levels of the patients.

Future studies

Additional studies will be necessary in order to determine whether or not acupuncture is a truly effective treatment for joint pain associated with breast cancer treatment. This was the first study of its kind and it was a small study. Nevertheless, the results are promising. More importantly, acupuncture is a form of medical treatment that is available to just about anyone. Patients dealing with joint pain caused by breast cancer may choose to see if acupuncture works for them. Because it is a non-surgical, non-drug alternative health treatment, it certainly can’t harm the patient so there’s no risk to seeing if it serves as a benefit.

Notably, acupuncture is often combined with other forms of alternative medicine in order to promote whole-body healing. Patients who are suffering from joint pain caused by breast cancer treatment are often also suffering from inflexibility of the muscles and joints. Additional treatments such as yoga, stretching, massage therapy and qigong might also be combined with the acupuncture to help fully relieve the joint pain.


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  • profile image

    badar munir 4 years ago

    hub page very informative page,i like very much,i got aeceupoint diplomo in chaines company

  • profile image

    acupuncture marketing 6 years ago

    Great post of hub. Very informative.

    The intent of acupuncture therapy is to promote health and alleviate pain and suffering. Even doctors recommend acupuncture as a form of physical theraphy.

  • Scotty Doc profile image

    Scotty Doc 7 years ago

    Thanks for this hub Kathryn - it's well written and really informative.

    My wife Marjory is a breast cancer survivor and has blogged about her experiences over at

    I didn't know about acupunctures role in the way that you describe - I'll get Marjory to do a post about it and we can link back to this hub

    Thanks again

  • theherbivorehippi profile image

    theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

    This is such fabulous information!! Thanks for sharing this ! :)

  • katiem2 profile image

    katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

    WOW great and informative hub! Thanks for the great insights! Peace :)