Acupuncture for Symptoms of Prostate Cancer Treatment

Men with prostate cancer often need to undergo therapy that depletes the male hormones in their bodies. This results in uncomfortable hot flashes. This study was attempted to see if acupuncture could relieve the hot flashes in these men. Results showed that average improvement in symptoms with acupuncture was 68.4 percent and 89.2 percent, at two weeks and six weeks respectively of acupuncture therapy. At eight months, the rate of improvement was 80.3 percent and there were no side effects of the acupuncture therapy.

Some studies have shown that anywhere from 14 to 74.3 percent men with prostate cancer, who are undergoing therapy to decrease their male hormone levels, experience uncomfortable symptoms of hot flashes. Hot flashes are associated with the sudden drop in levels of sex hormones, common to both menopausal women, and men undergoing therapy to reduce their male hormones, also known as “medical castration”. At present, advanced prostate cancer therapy involves reduction of male hormones by certain drugs and this therapy is considered of great value in prolonging the life of the patient. Major symptoms include flushing and reddening of the face and torso, along with anxiety, chills and palpitations. Some drugs such as Venlafaxine and Gabapentin have been tried successfully in the reduction of these hot flashes, but they come at a higher cost and produce side effects. This study attempted to test the effectiveness of acupuncture in this setting.

* For this study, a total of 17 males with prostate cancer who underwent androgen reduction therapy were chosen. Of these, 14 agreed to be included in the study.
* Each of the participants was asked about the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and a score was attributed to them (frequency multiplied by severity of the flashes).
* Scores were measured at the beginning of the acupuncture therapy and then at two weeks, six weeks and eight months.

Key findings
* The acupuncture therapy resulted in no side effects throughout the study.
* At two and six weeks and then eight months, the degree of improvement in the participants was noted was 68.4 percent, 89.2 percent and 80.3 percent, respectively over baseline.
* A 50 percent reduction in symptoms was seen by the second week in 86 percent of patients, and by the sixth week in 100 percent of the patients. After the longest follow-up interval, 91 percent of the patients maintained this 50 percent reduction in symptoms.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Authors agree that this study included only a small sample of patients. They suggest further larger studies which would compare acupuncture with other therapies for hot flashes. These could better qualify the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in male prostate cancer patients being treated with androgen depleting therapy for hot flashes.

This study shows the effectiveness of acupuncture in male prostate cancer patients, being treated for hot flashes with androgen depleting therapy. It shows a good 80.3 percent improvement of patients, maintained even at eight months of therapy, with 68.4 percent showing improvement within two weeks. Compared to the commonly used therapy for hot flashes such as Venlafaxine and Gabapentin, acupuncture seems to be economical and free of side effects. There are speculations that the effects of acupuncture may not be substantial or may be driven by the psychology of the patients, also known as the placebo effect. Authors recommend larger studies that compare acupuncture with these agents and propose to themselves take up a study to compare acupuncture with Venlafaxine to verify whether acupuncture has any such claimed placebo effect.

For More Information:
Acupuncture for the Alleviation of Hot Flashes in Men Treated with Androgen Ablation Therapy
Publication Journal: International Journal of Radiation Oncology, 2011
By Hani Ashamalla, MD; Ming L. Jiang, MD; Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Brooklyn, New York

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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