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  • Writer's picturePhoebus Tian

JAMA: Acupuncture may reduce joint pain for some cancer patient

Updated: May 21, 2020

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the clinical findings of the acupuncture against cancer pain, which was derived from the researchers of the Irving Medical Center of Columbia University.

Acupuncture can be safe and effective non-pharmacological methods to treat chronic pain. Especially for breast cancer survivors, it may be possible to use acupuncture to solve the often-faced problems of cancer pain.

Moreover, as a non-pharmacological method for controlling chronic cancer pain, acupuncture may also help alleviate the crisis of opioid analgesics abuse.

Aromatase inhibitors have been shown to be effective in the treatment of hormone-sensitive breast cancer. Thousands of hormone-receptor-positive early-stage breast cancer patients are treated with aromatase inhibitors each year to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Taking these drugs for 5 to 10 years can prolong the survival of patients. However, when treated with aromatase inhibitors, more than half of patients experience side effects such as severe joint pain and stiffness (joint pain).

Such side effects are collectively referred to as “aromatase inhibitor-related musculoskeletal symptoms (AIMSS).” AIMSS is the most common type of adverse reaction in the treatment of aromatase inhibitors, which can lead to patients unable to adhere to endocrine therapy, often leading to discontinuation of treatment or medication reduction, and the patient’s disease-free survival will also be shortened.

“About 50% of patients with aromatase inhibitor-related joint pain are forced to discontinue the medication or reduce medication.

As a part of Chinese medicine, acupuncture has thousands of years of history in China and other Asian countries. In 1996, acupuncture needles were approved by the US FDA. Acupuncture has been used to treat various diseases and symptoms. For cancer or cancer-related diseases, most research on acupuncture is mainly used to improve the quality of life of patients, primarily by controlling cancer symptoms or cancer treatment-related symptoms.

In fact, the role of acupuncture in relieving AIMSS has previously been supported by four small randomized controlled trials: “true acupuncture” outperforms “sham acupuncture”. In this latest JAMA report, the study code SWOG-S1200, with a larger sample size (226 patients), clarified the role of acupuncture in improving breast cancer survivors AIMSS.


Hershman DL, Effect of Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture or Waitlist Control on Joint Pain Related to Aromatase Inhibitors Among Women With Early-Stage Breast Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial JAMA. 2018 Jul 10;320(2):167-176. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.8907.

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