"We need something that's accessible that doesn't add adverse effects," Walker said.
For this study, 50 women with breast cancer were randomly assigned to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture (twice a week for four weeks then once a week) or daily Effexor. They were followed for a year.
Initially, both groups of women experienced similar reductions (about 50 percent) in hot flashes and depression, with an overall improvement in quality of life.
But the acupuncture benefits were longer lived. Two weeks out, women taking the antidepressant saw a resurgence in hot flashes while women in the acupuncture arm continued to have far fewer problems.
About 25 percent of women receiving acupuncture also reported more interest in sex while many also reported more energy and clearer thinking.
"The issue most of the time is the cost of it and whether insurance companies will pay for it," Walker said. Additional studies also need to look at how often women would need booster acupuncture to minimize their symptoms.
There's more on breast cancer treatments at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
SOURCES: Eleanor M. Walker, M.D., division director of breast services, department of radiation oncology, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman, hematology/oncology, Ochsner Health System, Baton Rouge; Dec. 28, 2009, Journal of Clinical Oncology, online
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