A Randomised Trial of Electro-acupuncture for Arthralgia Related to Aromatase Inhibitor Use

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Arthralgia is a common and debilitating side-effect experienced by breast cancer patients receiving aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and often results in premature drug discontinuation.


We conducted a randomised controlled trial of electro-acupuncture (EA) as compared to waitlist control (WLC) and sham acupuncture (SA) in postmenopausal women with breast cancer who self-reported arthralgia attributable to AIs. Acupuncturists performed 10 EA/SA treatments over 8 weeks using a manualised protocol with 2 Hz electro-stimulation delivered by a TENS unit. Acupuncturists administered SA using Streitberger (non-penetrating) needles at non-traditional acupuncture points without electro-stimulation. The primary end-point was pain severity by Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) between EA and WLC at Week 8; durability of response at Week 12 and comparison of EA to SA were secondary aims.


Of the 67 randomly assigned patients, mean reduction in pain severity was greater in the EA group than in the WLC group at Week 8 (−2.2 versus −0.2, p = 0.0004) and at Week 12 (−2.4 versus −0.2, p < 0.0001). Pain-related interference measured by BPI also improved in the EA group compared to the WLC group at both Week 8 (−2.0 versus 0.2, p = 0.0006) and Week 12 (−2.1 versus −0.1, p = 0.0034). SA produced a magnitude of change in pain severity and pain-related interference at Week 8 (−2.3, −1.5 respectively) and Week 12 (−1.7, −1.3 respectively) similar to that of EA. Participants in both EA and SA groups reported few minor adverse events.


Compared to usual care, EA produced clinically important and durable improvement in arthralgia related to AIs in breast cancer patients, and SA had a similar effect. Both EA and SA were safe.


Author Manuscript available via link to fulltext.



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