Electroacupuncture Versus Gabapentin for Hot Flashes Among Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial

J Clin Oncol. 2015 Nov 1;33(31):3615-20. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2015.60.9412. Epub 2015 Aug 24.


Purpose: Hot flashes are a common and debilitating symptom among survivors of breast cancer. This study aimed at evaluating the effects of electroacupuncture (EA) versus gabapentin (GP) for hot flashes among survivors of breast cancer, with a specific focus on the placebo and nocebo effects.

Patients and methods: We conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 120 survivors of breast cancer experiencing bothersome hot flashes twice per day or greater. Participants were randomly assigned to receive 8 weeks of EA or GP once per day with validated placebo controls (sham acupuncture [SA] or placebo pills [PPs]). The primary end point was change in the hot flash composite score (HFCS) between SA and PP at week 8, with secondary end points including group comparisons and additional evaluation at week 24 for durability of treatment effects.

Results: By week 8, SA produced significantly greater reduction in HFCS than did PP (-2.39; 95% CI, -4.60 to -0.17). Among all treatment groups, the mean reduction in HFCS was greatest in the EA group, followed by SA, GP, and PP (-7.4 v -5.9 v -5.2 v -3.4; P = < .001). The pill groups had more treatment-related adverse events than did the acupuncture groups: GP (39.3%), PP (20.0%), EA (16.7%), and SA (3.1%), with P = .005. By week 24, HFCS reduction was greatest in the EA group, followed by SA, PP, and GP (-8.5 v -6.1 v -4.6 v -2.8; P = .002).

Conclusion: Acupuncture produced larger placebo and smaller nocebo effects than did pills for the treatment of hot flashes. EA may be more effective than GP, with fewer adverse effects for managing hot flashes among breast cancer survivors; however, these preliminary findings need to be confirmed in larger randomized controlled trials with long-term follow-up.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01005108.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amines / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / methods*
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Electroacupuncture*
  • Female
  • Gabapentin
  • Hot Flashes / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Needles
  • Survivors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / therapeutic use*


  • Amines
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Gabapentin

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01005108