Breast cancer survivors may benefit from exercise therapy, acupuncture

Scientists have offered hope to breast cancer survivors, who suffer from pain and swelling, by offering a set of therapies which would help in increasing their muscular strength and body image.

ANI| Last Updated: Nov 05, 2014, 11:36 AM IST

Washington: Scientists have offered hope to breast cancer survivors, who suffer from pain and swelling, by offering a set of therapies which would help in increasing their muscular strength and body image.

Two new studies from the Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania offer hope for breast cancer survivors struggling with cancer-related pain and swelling, and point to ways to enhance muscular strength and body image.

In the first study, University of Pennsylvania researchers assessed patients participating in "Strength after Breast Cancer," a Penn Medicine-developed, evidence-based exercise and education program for breast cancer survivors. The study was intended to investigate the ease and effectiveness of transporting a research-based treatment into a practice setting. The primary goal of the study was to demonstrate program effectiveness for patients after transition from research to a practice setting. The secondary goal was to understand the implementation process and identify barriers to implementation.

Building upon the team's previous research, results of the new study show several benefits of exercise for participants, including reduced symptoms of lymphedema - a swelling condition in the upper body after breast cancer treatment that can be caused by the removal of or damage to the body's lymph nodes. Results also showed a lower proportion of women with lymphedema onset (8 percent) or the need for therapist-delivered treatment (19 percent), improvements in upper and lower body strength (13 and 9 percent, respectively), and improvements in body image (16 percent). There were no adverse effects noted for the intervention.

The second aim of the study allowed the team, led by first author, Rinad Beidas to take the research into a new direction, and they sought to identify barriers to implementation of the program.

Beidas said that the results of this study demonstrated that an evidence-based exercise and education program for breast cancer survivors could be translated to a new setting while still remaining effective and safe. They we were also able to identify the types of barriers that should be addressed when taking this program to scale, which provided important information translating research into practice, which historically has taken up to 17 years.

In the second study, the researchers at Penn Medicine and other institutions found that electro-acupuncture helped reduce joint pain by as much as 40 percent in women with breast cancer, whether the patient expected it to work or not. The study also found that "sham" acupuncture - which involves nonpenetrative needles and no electrical stimulation - provided pain reduction as high as 80 percent if patients had a high degree of expectation that it would work. The study results provide important implications for future treatment of breast cancer patients with joint pain.

In addition, patients who reported pain relief had increased expectancy that it would continue to work over the course of their acupuncture treatment as compared with nonresponders, suggesting that positive responses during the process of real acupuncture increased the expectations of further positive outcomes-what the authors call a "bottom-up" result.

Sham acupuncture only produced clinically important pain reduction for those with high onset expectancy, and the patients with low baseline expectancy scores did not report any significant pain reduction.

The strong response seen in patients with high expectancy for sham acupuncture raises the question of whether such patients could benefit from the nonpenetrative use of needles without electro-stimulation.

The studies are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.