A recent study examined the effectiveness of electroacupuncture, in which small electric currents are applied to traditional acupuncture needles, in women with breast cancer treatment-associated hot flashes.

120 women with hot flashes were randomized to weekly electroacupuncture, once-daily gabapentin, sham acupuncture, or placebo for 8 weeks. Hot flashes were assessed using a daily self-reported hot flash composite score.

At 8 weeks, women in the electroacupuncture group experienced the greatest reduction in hot flash scores, followed by sham acupuncture, gabapentin, and placebo (–7.4 vs –5.9 vs –5.2 vs –3.4; P < .001).

Treatment stopped after week 8; however, the patients continued to maintain daily hot flash diaries until week 24.  Again at week 24, women in the electroacupuncture group had the greatest reduction in hot flash scores, followed by sham acupuncture, placebo, and gabapentin (–8.5 vs –6.1 vs –4.6 vs –2.8; P = .002).

Given these reports, electroacupuncture may be an attractive option for women with hot flashes; however, several questions remain.   Would regular or traditional acupuncture — without electricity — work as well for the hot flashes?  It turns out that few studies have run head-to-head comparisons of traditional and electroacupuncture.  The fact that sham acupuncture, which used needles retracted into their handles, had some treatment effect suggests that stimulating standard body points even lightly may carry some benefit.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Mao JJ, Bowman MA, Xie SX, et al.  Electroacupuncture Versus Gabapentin for Hot Flashes Among Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.  J Clin Oncol. 2015 Aug 24.

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