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The largest, most rigorous study of its kind to date has found that acupuncture can significantly reduce the severe joint pain experienced by women undergoing treatment for early stage breast cancer. American oncologists conducted the trial in 226 women who were receiving aromatase inhibitors. Patients were randomly assigned to true acupuncture, sham acupuncture (shallow insertion at non-acupuncture points), or no treatment. Patients were treated twice a week for six weeks, then weekly for another six weeks. The results showed that after six-weeks of treatment ‘worst pain’ in the verum acupuncture group was about one point lower on a ten point scale compared with either sham or no-treatment groups. This effect was a statistically significant, and larger than that seen for antidepressant drugs used to help reduce cancer pain. The percentage of participants who reported a clinically meaningful change (improvement of at least two points) almost doubled, from around 30 percent in both control groups to 58 percent in the verum acupuncture group. I addition, the pain relief from acupuncture persisted for 24 weeks after the acupuncture course had finished, unlike that experienced with drug therapy. The authors conclude that the treatment could help patients continue with life-saving cancer treatments, thus potentially improving survival rates.

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