Written by Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated October 21, 2017

Acupuncture for hot flushes

Abstract and key points

  • Acupuncture usually entails the needling of specific points on the body surface.
  • The data from reliable clinical trials are scarce as most trials are methodologically weak while several sham-controlled studies reported no difference between acupuncture and sham; thus the evidence is insufficient to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment of hot flushes in women with cancer.
  • Serious complications are probably very rare.

Acupuncture typically entails needling specific points of the body surface. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy, illness is caused by imbalances of energies in the body and acupuncture is a treatment that re-balances energies. Therefore, it is claimed by TCM-practitioners to be helpful in most human condition. By contrast, most Western acupuncturists follow the principles of conventional medicine and would employ acupuncture only for specific conditions. Acupuncture might be advocated for a wide range of conditions and symptoms, including cancer-related hot flushes.

The evidence from clinical trials of acupuncture as a treatment for hot flushes in women with breast cancer is contradictory. Even though some encouraging studies exist, comparisons with sham acupuncture are less positive and any effects appear to be short-term. Most trials are burdened with a high risk of bias and the totality of the trial data is therefore unconvincing.

Mild adverse effects, e.g. pain or bleeding at the site of acupuncture can be expected in about 10% of all cases, and serious complications, such as pneumothorax and hepatitis, seem to be very rare.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of acupuncture at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Acupuncture for hot flushes [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Acupuncture-for-hot-flushes. October 21, 2017.

Document history

Last updated in October 2017 by Karen Pilkington.

Fully revised and updated in July 2015 by Karen Pilkington.

Summary first published in April 2013, authored by Edzard Ernst.

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