Acupuncture is a method of producing analgesia or altering the function of a body system by inserting fine, wire-thin needles (about the diameter of a strand of hair) into acupoints along a specific meridian (meridians are channels in the body that transport energy) on the body. Electroacupuncture involves the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles to stimulate the acupoint via an electrode that is attached to the acupuncture needles. The electrical current substitutes for maneuvering the needles by hand.
Effectiveness Not Established
Research Evidence Summaries
Frisk, J., Källström, A. C., Wall, N., Fredrikson, M., & Hammar, M. (2012). Acupuncture improves health-related quality-of-life (HRQoL) and sleep in women with breast cancer and hot flushes. Supportive Care in Cancer, 20, 715–724.doi: 10.1007/s00520-011-1134-8
To evaluate the effectiveness of electroacupuncture (EA) and hormone therapy (HT) on health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and sleep in breast cancer survivors with vasomotor symptoms.
Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process:
Women who had completed treatment for breast cancer were randomized to receive EA for 12 weeks or HT for 24 months. They completed the Psychological and General Wellbeing Index (PGWI) and Women’s Health Questionnaire (WHQ) pretreatment for vasomotor symptoms; during treatment; and at 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months after the start of treatment.
- The sample was comprised of 18 female patients.
- Mean age was 54.1 years (range 47–69).
- Patients had completed treatment for breast cancer in situ for a T1 or T2 tumor with a maximum of four metastatic lymph nodes or T3 tumors without metastatic lymph nodes.
Patients also had:
- Vasomotor symptoms
- Been seen by a breast surgeon or oncologist within the last three months and were not receiving active treatment for breast cancer
- No clinical or mammographic signs of recurrence.
Women were excluded if they were receiving ongoing breast cancer treatment other than tamoxifen; had other malignancies; or had a history of thromboembolic, cereverbrovascular, or liver disease; porphyria; or active cardiovascular disease.
Phase of Care and Clinical Applications:
- Patients were undergoing the long-term follow-up phase of care.
- The study has clinical applicability for late effects and survivorship and elderly care.
The study was a multicenter, randomized, prospective trial.
- Log books for hot flushes and for sleep data, specifically the number of hours slept and times woken
Nineteen women completed 12 weeks of EA. Eleven women were excluded due to changes in treatment. About 40% of the patients had no other treatment. The HT group had 11 women complete the 24 months of treatment. In both groups, reduction of hot flushes was noted. The EA group had a decrease in the median number of flushes/24 hours of 55% (p < 0.001) after 12 weeks. The decrease was 29% (p = 0.026) after 24 months. In the HT group, the median number of hot flushes/24 hours decreased by 100% (p = 0.001) after 12 weeks of treatment with no further changes. Sleep parameters improved significantly in both groups from baseline, with a WHQ sleep score in the EA group at baseline of 0.50 and at 24 months 0.33; in the HT group, the baseline score of 0.33 to declined 0.00 at 24 months.
The study showed improvement in sleep scores of both groups up to 21 months. The numbers of hours slept per night did not increase, but the numbers of flushes and distress caused by them decreased, resulting in fewer times woken, with overall improvement in HRQoL. Both groups also showed a significant decrease in the number of HF experienced, which was maintained up to 21 months after treatment was stopped.
EA, compared to HT for management of hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, shows some potential benefit in reducing numbers of hot flashes/24 hours, improving overall WHQ scores.
- The study had a small sample size, with less than 30 patients.
- There was a high number of drop-outs in EA group.
HT is not recommended as a safe treatment for vasomotor symptoms for breast cancer survivors. Thus, the value of using that group to compare with a group that received EA is of concern. EA needs further investigation in larger sample sizes. Further research is needed for efficacy of EA in hot flash management for breast cancer survivors and in women treated with aromatase inhibitors experiencing hot flash distress, as this study did not address that phenomenon.
Mao, J.J., Farrar, J.T., Bruner, D., Zee, J., Bowman, M., Seluzicki, C., . . . Xie, S.X. (2014). Electroacupuncture for fatigue, sleep, and psychological distress in breast cancer patients with aromatase inhibitor-related arthralgia: A randomized trial. Cancer, 23, 3744–3751.doi: 10.1002/cncr.28917
To examine electroacupuncture (EA) compared to sham acupuncture (SA) and a waitlist control (WLC) group to determine effectiveness on fatigue, sleep disturbance, depression, and anxiety in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors who reported joint pain, or arthralgia, related to aromatase inhibitors (anastrazole, letrozole, exemestane)
Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process:
Acupuncture interventions were administered by two licensed acupuncturists (not physicians). Ten treatments were administered over eight weeks with two treatments during each of the first two weeks followed by one treatment per week for the following six weeks. The EA and SA treatments were administered by the same two acupuncturists. Procedures for the two groups differed in the placement of the acupuncture needles and actual versus sham electrical stimulation using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit. The same timing and duration of treatments was used for each group.
- N = 67 (159 were screened; 76 were enrolled; 9 were excluded during the next round of evaluations; 4 were lost to follow-up by time 2 [4 weeks] and 4 more were lost to follow-up by time 3 [12 weeks])
- MEAN AGE: 59.7 years (range = 41–76 years)
- FEMALES: 100%
- KEY DISEASE CHARACTERISTICS: Breast cancer survivors being treated with aromatase inhibitors (AIs) for 3–56 months. 66% of participants were being treated with an AI at the time of the study. At baseline, there were significant correlations between baseline pain (as measured by the Brief Pain Inventory) and fatigue, sleep, and depression, but there was no correlation with anxiety. Most participants (71.6%) were white and 23.9% were black; greater than 75% reported college education. Disease: 48%–50% were at disease stage I, 30–36 % were at disease stage II, and 14%–22 % were at disease stage III.
- OTHER KEY SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS: Most participants (71.6%) were white and 23.9% were black; greater than 75% held some college education. Inclusion criteria: Women with histories of stages I–III breast cancer currently taking an AI, current complaints of joint pain times three months, attributes pain to AI, current-week pain rating of 4 or greater on an 11-point rating (0–10), complaints of pain at least 15 days within the last 30 days.
- SITE: Single-site
- SETTING TYPE: Not specified
- LOCATION: The Abramson Cancer Center of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Phase of Care and Clinical Applications:
- PHASE OF CARE: Active antitumor treatment
- APPLICATIONS: Elder care, palliative care
Three-group randomized controlled trial comparing EA, SA, and WLC.
Four measurement tools were used: the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI); the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI); the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI); and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). A priori primary outcome reported pain intensity and interference. A priori secondary outcome reported fatigue, sleep, and psychological distress (anxiety, depression).
Measurements were repeated at weeks 4, 8, and 12. There was significant (p = 0.0095) improvement in the fatigue score after EA, no improvement with SA, and greater reduction in fatigue than the WLC group. There were nonsignificant improvements in sleep in the EA and SA groups compared to the WLC group. There was significant (p = 0.04) improvement in the EA group but the SA group on the HADS anxiety score compared to the WLC group; a nonsignificant improvement continued in the EA group at week 8, whereas week 12 showed a significant (p = 0.006) improvement in the EA and WLC groups. EA and SA group improvements in depression scores were significant (p = 0.015 and p = 0.0088, respectively) compared with the WLC group; EA and SA significantly (p = 0.0031m and p = 0.0056, respectively) improved scores at week 8, and scores did not change at week 12.
EA produced improvements by reducing fatigue, anxiety, and depression scores. SA produced improvements in depression scores only. Acupuncture with electronic stimulation may be an effective treatment for pain and the nonpain symptoms of fatigue, sleep disturbance, and depression associated with AIs. Additional research is encouraged.
- Small sample (< 100)
- Risk of bias (no blinding). There was no blinding but the risk of bias is low because each arm of the study required specific treatment limited to administration by just two acupuncturists.
Acupuncture with electrical stimulation should be considered a viable treatment option for patients with breast cancer taking AIs who complain of joint pain. Large, randomized, controlled research studies are needed to develop evidence for the efficacy of EA in breast and other cancers. Drug and symptom cluster correlations must be deconstructed.