Penn Medicine Study Demonstrates Benefit of Acupuncture for Easing Joint Pain Among Breast Cancer Patients Taking Aromatase Inhibitors


November 18, 2013

Acupuncture can decrease the joint pain side effects often reported by breast cancer patients taking aromatase inhibitors (AIs), according to results of a new randomized trial conducted by a research team from the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Their findings were published online this month in the European Journal of Cancer. Aromatase inhibitors are the most commonly used medications to prevent disease recurrence among post-menopausal women with early-stage, hormone receptor positive breast cancer. Despite their efficacy, the drugs cause arthralgia, or joint pain, in nearly half of the women taking them – the symptoms can be so severe that previous studies have shown that nearly half of women stop taking AIs too soon, potentially depriving themselves of the drugs' lifesaving benefits. The new Penn study is the first to establish a clinical benefit associated with the use of electro-acupuncture to relieve these symptoms, which could potentially help keep more women on the drugs for as long as they're recommended. "We see patients every day in the clinic who report that they have benefited from acupuncture, but until now, we have not had the scientific evidence we need to support what we hear from these women," said the study's lead author, Jun Mao, MD, MSCE, an associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health in Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, who directs the Integrative Oncology program in the Abramson Cancer Center. "This study is not the final answer, but it does provide strong evidence that acupuncture can play a role in controlling pain for breast cancer patients with AI related arthralgia. We saw a significant reduction in pain levels in the acupuncture groups with only very mild, short-term adverse effects."

Penn Medicine News Release