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Acupuncture May Help Ease Hot Flashes Tied to Prostate Cancer Treatment


3 Star


Acupuncture May Help Ease Hot Flashes Tied to Prostate Cancer Treatment

Our Review Summary

So-so grade for this story.

Good points:

  • It emphasized – twice – that this was a “small” – in fact, “very small” study – 14 men.
  • It sought an independent expert’s opinion – someone who brought good perspective to the piece.

Weaker points:

  • Why even report on such a small study?
  • Why not include an actual interview with the lead author?
  • Why did the story not give any history/context – e.g., that a larger pilot study of acupuncture in 60 men with advanced prostate cancer reported substantial symptomatic improvement. (Harding C, et al, published in the British Journal of Urology International in January 2009.)
  • A vague, inadequate description of the benefits seen.



Why This Matters

Hormone therapy is commonly used for men with advanced-stage prostate cancer (spread to bone), along with radiation therapy in high-risk men, and for men with rising PSA levels after attempted curative therapy. However,this story does not provide any information about the characteristics of the men receiving hormone therapy, including the indications for hormone therapy, the severity and duration of their hot flashes, and whether they had received conventional therapy for hot flashes (additional hormone therapy).


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story could have easily provided some cost estimate for four weeks of twice-weekly acupuncture sessions. But it didn’t.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Probably the weak point of the story.

The story only says “Their reported levels of hot flashes dropped markedly.”  What does that mean?  From what to what?  Measured how? And in how many of the men?  With no indication of what their baseline symptom severity was, there’s no way to interpret the sketchy results reported in the story.

The story also throws in a tag line that the same study “also found that acupuncture relieved the heart palpitations and anxiety often associated with hormone therapy for prostate cancer.”  But no data were given to back up these claims.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of potential harms.  Maybe none were found.  Some past acupuncture studies report discomfort at the needling sites. One line could have easily addressed what was seen in this study or in related work.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?



The story mentioned that this was a very small study – only 14 men.  And it turned to an independent expert who opined that the placebo effect could have been at play or that the symptoms simply went away on their own.

It could have explained that this study design–apparently just a case series without a control group–provides results of very limited validity.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


NO disease mongering of the problem of post-prostate cancer treatment hot flashes.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


One independent expert was interviewed.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There wasn’t any comparison given between what acupuncture did in this tiny study and what else is now done or is being investigated for hot flashes in such men.

Other hormone therapies and antidepressants are currently used.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The availability of acupuncture isn’t in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

No context was given for placing this research into the bigger picture of what else is doing for the hot flash problem, or if other related acupuncture research has been done.

A study (Harding C, et al) was published in the British Journal of Urology International in January 2009, reporting on a larger pilot study of 60 men with advanced prostate cancer who did show substantial symptomatic improvement. Those authors called for randomized trials to more definitively determine benefit.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Mixed bag.

The story admits it drew its lead researcher quotes from a news release.

But it turned to an independent expert for analysis.  Because that independent expert injected some questions about the limitations of the research, we’ll award this a barely satisfactory grade.

But why wasn’t the lead author himself interviewed?

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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