Purpose: To determine the immediate and long-term effects of true acupuncture versus sham acupuncture on hot flash frequency in women with breast cancer.
Patients and methods: Seventy-two women with breast cancer experiencing three or more hot flashes per day were randomly assigned to receive either true or sham acupuncture. Interventions were given twice weekly for 4 consecutive weeks. Hot flash frequency was evaluated at baseline, at 6 weeks, and at 6 months after initiation of treatment. Patients initially randomly assigned to the sham group were crossed over to true acupuncture starting at week 7.
Results: The mean number of hot flashes per day was reduced from 8.7 (standard deviation [SD], 3.9) to 6.2 (SD, 4.2) in the true acupuncture group and from 10.0 (SD, 6.1) to 7.6 (SD, 5.7) in the sham group. True acupuncture was associated with 0.8 fewer hot flashes per day than sham at 6 weeks, but the difference did not reach statistical significance (95% CI, -0.7 to 2.4; P = .3). When participants in the sham acupuncture group were crossed over to true acupuncture, a further reduction in the frequency of hot flashes was seen. This reduction in hot flash frequency persisted for up to 6 months after the completion of treatment.
Conclusion: Hot flash frequency in breast cancer patients was reduced following acupuncture. However, when compared with sham acupuncture, the reduction by the acupuncture regimen as provided in the current study did not reach statistical significance. We cannot exclude the possibility that a longer and more intense acupuncture intervention could produce a larger reduction of these symptoms.