Published on May 1, 2020
One minute you’re fine, and the next you feel a sudden warmth creeping up your neck and face. You know what’s coming: a dreaded hot flash. You may experience heart palpitations or sweat through your clothes. Then as quickly as it occurs, the hot flash is gone, and you feel a chill.
TV sitcoms and movies may make light of conditions like this, but hot flashes are no joke to the person having them. Imagine giving a presentation in front of an audience when a hot flash comes on. It can really wreck your day and, over time, affect your overall quality of life.
For women with breast cancer, certain treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or ovarian suppression can cause these symptoms. Other causes of hot flashes include eating spicy foods or dairy; for some, it might be drinking coffee or wine. A patient’s emotional state can also lead to hot flashes.
Knowing your triggers is one way to mitigate these occurrences and complementary therapies can help.
An Energy Balancing Act
Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese therapy to balance the flow of energy (called chi) caused by physical or mental distress. Chi is the body’s energy flow that connects to certain points on the body (called meridians). Acupuncture enables chi to travel through the pathway along the meridians.
Western science explains it differently; acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, signaling the body to release endorphins, immune system cells, neurotransmitters and neurohormones. But, with the use of very tiny needles gently placed along specific meridians along the body, the result is the same—an alleviation of pain or discomfort.
The results are not immediate, they accumulate over days and weeks. It’s very different from taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, which is consumed, provides almost immediate relief and is passed through the body in 24 hours. With acupuncture, a practitioner may want to meet with you once a week for several weeks to get you the best results.
What Studies Say
Several studies have shown positive outcomes for women who seek complementary therapies such as acupuncture in alleviating hot flashes.1,2 But not all patients benefit from acupuncture. Why does it work for some and not others? One study found that women who have certain genotypes were more likely to respond to acupuncture, thus experiencing relief from hot flashes.3
The great thing about acupuncture is its lack of side effects. The positive effects build on each visit, creating a cumulative effect of months of relief, while the risk of negative effects is very low.
If you’re considering complementary therapies, it is important to let your oncology team know. To give you the best and safest care possible, they need to have a full picture of your health care, which includes any self-care. And, they may know someone who has a proven track record and is licensed and board-certified in acupuncture.
If you are experiencing hot flashes or symptoms you think might be related to hot flashes, tell your oncologist. Together, you can make a plan so you can get back to business.
~Lauren Evoy Davis
Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.
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- Grazia, L, et al. Acupuncture As an Integrative Approach for the Treatment of Hot Flashes in Women With Breast Cancer: A Prospective Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial (AcCliMaT). J Clin Oncol. 2016; 34, no. 15 1795-1802.
- Chen YP, et al. Acupuncture for hot flashes in women with breast cancer: A systematic review. J Cancer Res Ther. 2016;12(2):535-42.
- Romero SAD, et al. Genetic predictors to acupuncture response for hot flashes: an exploratory study of breast cancer survivors. Menopause. 2020 Mar 23.