Acupuncture in cancer study reignites debate about controversial technique

One of the largest-ever clinical trials into whether acupuncture can relieve pain in cancer patients has reignited a debate over the role of this contested technique in cancer care.
Oncologists who conducted a trial of real and sham acupuncture in 226 women at 11 different cancer centres across the United States say their results — presented on 7 December at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas — conclude that the treatment significantly reduces pain in women receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer. They suggest it could help patients stick to life-saving cancer treatments, potentially improving survival rates. But sceptics say it is almost impossible to conduct completely rigorous double-blinded trials of acupuncture.
Interest in acupuncture has grown because of concerns over the use of opioid-based pain-relief drugs, which can have nasty side effects and are extremely addictive. Many cancer centres in the United States therefore offer complementary therapies for pain relief. Almost 90% of US National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centres suggest that patients try acupuncture, and just over 70% offer it as a treatment for side effects. That horrifies sceptics such as Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine and founder of the blog Science-Based Medicine. Acupuncture has no scientific basis, he says; recommending it is “telling patients that magic works”. 

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During breast cancer treatment, women who have yet to go through the menopause may develop such symptoms as hot flushes.
‘Chemotherapy can stop the ovaries from working, so the production of oestrogen is cut,’ says Tena Walters, a consultant breast surgeon at The London Breast Clinic and the Lister Hospital, Chelsea. ‘This has a similar effect to when oestrogen production falls at the menopause. The other big cause is hormonal treatments such as tamoxifen.’

These drugs are given to women who have had ‘oestrogen-receptor positive’ tumours — meaning their cancer is encouraged to grow and divide by the presence of oestrogen.

Source  - Daily Mail