Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Acupuncture Reduces Joint Pain in Some Women with Breast Cancer

Adapted from the NCI Cancer Bulletin.

In a small randomized clinical trial, breast cancer patients experiencing joint pain and stiffness from aromatase inhibitor (AI) treatment reported an improvement in pain from acupuncture. Eighty percent of women receiving acupuncture reported at least a 2-point improvement on a 10-point pain scale, compared with 22 percent of women who received a sham treatment. These results were published January 25 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers led by Katherine D. Crew, M.D., M.S., of Columbia University enrolled 51 women in the trial, 43 of who were randomly assigned and 38 of who completed the treatment. Scheduling difficulties accounted for most of the women who enrolled but did not begin or finish treatment.

All of the women were blinded to their treatment assignment, which consisted of either 12 acupuncture sessions or 12 sham treatments (in which needles were lightly inserted into the body at points thought to have no effect on pain) over the course of 6 weeks. The researchers used three different scales to measure changes in joint pain, stiffness, and knee and hand function.

At the beginning of the study, women in the acupuncture group reported a mean worst pain score of 6.7 (on a scale from 1 to 10), compared with a mean score of 5.6 in women in the sham group. After treatment, women in the acupuncture group reported a mean worst pain score of 3.0, compared to 5.5 in women in the sham group. These numbers corresponded to a 50 percent improvement in pain scores for the acupuncture group.

"To our knowledge," concluded the authors, "this report is the first randomized, placebo-controlled trial establishing the use of an intervention to control AI-related joint symptoms, which should be confirmed in a larger randomized trial."

  • Posted: February 3, 2010