Randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial of acupuncture for the management of aromatase inhibitor-associated joint symptoms in women with early-stage breast cancer

J Clin Oncol. 2010 Mar 1;28(7):1154-60. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2009.23.4708. Epub 2010 Jan 25.


PURPOSE Women with breast cancer (BC) treated with aromatase inhibitors (AIs) may experience joint symptoms that can lead to discontinuation of effective therapy. We examined whether acupuncture improves AI-induced arthralgias in women with early-stage BC. METHODS We conducted a randomized, controlled, blinded study comparing true acupuncture (TA) versus sham acupuncture (SA) twice weekly for 6 weeks in postmenopuasal women with BC who had self-reported musculoskeletal pain related to AIs. TA included full body/auricular acupuncture and joint-specific point prescriptions, whereas SA involved superficial needle insertion at nonacupoint locations. Outcome measures included the Brief Pain Inventory-Short Form (BPI-SF), Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), and Modified Score for the Assessment of Chronic Rheumatoid Affections of the Hands (M-SACRAH) obtained at baseline and at 3 and 6 weeks. Results Of 51 women enrolled, 43 women were randomly assigned and 38 were evaluable. Baseline characteristics were comparable between the two groups. Our primary end point was the difference in mean BPI-SF worst pain scores at 6 weeks, which was lower for TA compared with SA (3.0 v 5.5; P < .001). We also found differences between TA and SA in pain severity (2.6 v 4.5; P = .003) and pain-related interference (2.5 v 4.5; P = .002) at 6 weeks. Similar findings were seen for the WOMAC and M-SACRAH scores. The acupuncture intervention was well-tolerated. CONCLUSION Women with AI-induced arthralgias treated with TA had significant improvement of joint pain and stiffness, which was not seen with SA. Acupuncture is an effective and well-tolerated strategy for managing this common treatment-related side effect.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Arthralgia / chemically induced
  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging


  • Aromatase Inhibitors