Acupuncture, Tamoxifen and Hot Flushes
Tamoxifen is primarily used as an additional therapy in the treatment of breast cancer, together with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Its purpose is to provide treatment when no tumour is detectable but there is a risk of tumour development or recurrence. It prevents oestrogen from binding to receptor sites in breast cells.
Because it is an anti-oestrogenic hormonal treatment, it causes menopausal symptoms such as flushing, night sweats, insomnia, vaginal dryness, digestive upsets and mood changes. Side effects such as hot flushes may be due to certain physiological changes occurring in the hypothalamus (brain) because it is not correctly regulated by naturally occurring opiods. Tamoxifen is not suitable for all patients e.g. those with clotting disorders or coronary heart disease.
Tamoxifen and Hot Flushes and TCM
Whilst Western medicine aims to kill tumours, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) seeks to regulate yin and yang, bringing the body back into harmonious balance. TCM can be used to strengthen the body and relieve the side effects of treatment. The combination of Western and Chinese measures to complement each other can achieve a far better effect than relying solely upon one form of treatment.
Hot flushes are one of the main symptoms of menopause, and are often extremely distressing to the sufferer, especially if they are also accompanied by night sweats. In TCM hot flushes are regarded as an imbalance between yin and yang, where yin is not strong enough to control the upward yang movement which then floats upwards, bringing heat to the upper part of the body.
In conjunction with the appropriate TCM treatment, which may include acupuncture and herbs, the patient can also help themselves by eating suitable foods, taking exercise and reducing stress through relaxation techniques. Wolfe (1998) explains how such self help can be applied.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Hot Flushes?
There is a wealth of research into the effectiveness of TCM on hot flushes, specifically those experienced as a side effect of Tamoxifen.
1Lahans (2007) cites case studies, whilst 2Wolfe (1998) reports on several trials undertaken in China. A more recent trial in Norway was reported in April 2008 at the 6th European Breast Cancer Conference in Berlin, available on the ECCO website. Hervik reported a 50% decrease in the incidence of hot flushes in women receiving acupuncture after taking Tamoxifen. 3Filshie et al (2005) also report good treatment outcomes using acupuncture .
1Lahans, T (2007) Integrating Conventional and Chinese Medicine in Cancer Care: A Clinical Guide, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone
2Wolfe, H L (1998) Managing Menopause Naturally, Boulder, Blue Poppy Press
3Filshie, J., Bolton, T., Browne, D., Ashley, S (2005) ‘Acupuncture and self acupuncture for long term treatment of vasomotor symptoms in cancer patients – audit and treatment algorithm’ Acupuncture in Medicine Vol 23, no 4 pp 171-180
Click here to see our patient Testimonials