The answer is likely yes, but the result may be simply due to a placebo effect, albeit a strong one.
A new analysis has found that both real and sham acupuncture treatments may help alleviate side effects of drugs commonly used to treat breast cancer.
Breast cancer patients who take a type of drug called an aromatase inhibitor (which inhibits the enzyme that produces estrogen in postmenopausal women) often experience side effects, including joint/muscle pain and stiffness, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. To see if acupuncture could help alleviate patients’ symptoms, Ting Bao MD, DAMBA, MS, of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, and her colleagues recruited 47 breast cancer survivors taking aromatase inhibitors and suffering from joint/muscle discomfort to participate in a clinical trial. About half of the patients received eight weekly acupuncture treatments, and the other half received a kind of fake (or “sham”) acupuncture that involved non-penetrating retractable needles placed in sham acupoints (non-acupuncture points).
Both groups experienced lessening of their symptoms, especially hot flashes, but there was little difference in benefits between the real acupuncture and the sham acupuncture.
In other words, the placebo effect is real and strong. Acupuncture seems to “work” even though skeptics may still be, well, skeptical.