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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Pitts School of Nursing to Study Effectiveness of Acupuncture in Alleviating Symptoms of Menopause in Breast Cancer Survivors

PITTSBURGH, March 10, 2003 University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing researchers are investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture in reducing the severity of menopausal symptoms in women who have breast cancer.

For years, Western medicine has used hormone replacement therapy as the primary form of treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, headaches, insomnia and anxiety, said Susan Cohen, D.S.N., APRN, associate professor of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursings department of health promotion and development and principal investigator for the study. However, studies show that estrogen increases the risk of uterine cancer and that estrogen combined with progestin increases the risk of breast cancer. There also is a heightened risk for women who are breast cancer survivors. It is thought by many that alternative therapies may be a safer way to treat the physical complaints of women with menopause, especially breast cancer survivors.

Acupuncture points are thought to stimulate the nervous system and release endorphins, the bodys natural painkillers and releases hormones that influence the bodys self-regulating systems. Acupuncture has been used to treat other conditions, which led Dr. Cohen to believe that it could be a possible remedy for menopausal symptoms.

From 1997 to 1999, Dr. Cohen conducted one of the first studies in the United States to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in alleviating hot flashes, insomnia and nervousness. In that study, it was found that during the course of acupuncture treatment, hot flashes decreased by 35 percent and insomnia decreased by 50 percent. A follow-up study revealed hot flashes significantly decreased in those receiving acupuncture, compared to those receiving routine care.

The current study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, involves a larger number of participants than previous studies. Participants will be divided into three groups; one will receive menopause specific acupuncture, one will receive non-menopause specific acupuncture, and one will receive usual care. Participants receiving acupuncture will have 12 acupuncture treatments and participants in the usual care group will attend educational sessions where they will learn about non-hormonal menopausal symptom management strategies and healthy living.

Before and after each session, saliva samples will be collected from each participant. The samples will be tested to measure levels of cortisol. Decreases in cortisol levels indicate that acupuncture produced a relaxation effect.

The study will continue through 2004. Potential study participants can receive information by calling 412-624-4597.

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