By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New help for breast cancer patients struggling with difficult side effects caused by drugs taken to prevent a recurrence.  These side effects, things like joint pain, depression and anxiety, are so troubling almost 50 percent of women stop taking the drugs, which increases the risk of cancer returning.  Now Penn researchers have found a new way to zap away those problems.

Electroacupuncture is ramped up acupuncture that delivers a small electric current into the tiny needles.  It’s helping breast cancer patients like Winifred Chain, of Lumberton.  It’s been a lifesaver for her.  She’s back to her favorite hobby, playing ping pong with her family, which she hadn’t been able to do.

“It was just so painful.  I couldn’t even hold a fork.  I couldn’t write,” said Winifred.

Winifred had terrible joint pain in her thumb caused by the drug Arimidex.  It helps keep cancer away, but causes some serious side effects including fatigue, depression and insomnia.

Dr. Jun Mao, Director of the Integrative Oncology Initiative at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, has just published a new study showing electroacupuncture can offset negative side effects, including  joint pain, caused by drugs like Arimidex.

“In breast cancer patients electroacupuncture was very effective for fatigue, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Mao.  He says the therapy works in part by stimulating the brain to release feel good endorphins, that block pain perception.  And it appears to have a lasting effect.

“I feel a little tingling where the electricity is going through,” said Winifred.  She says the 20 minute therapy isn’t uncomfortable.  The electric current is only attached to needles in her hand to zap pain.  She also has needles in her legs and feet to treat fatigue and depression.

“I’m very happy,” said Winifred.

Study results were published in the journal “Cancer.”

Electroacupuncture was only tested on patients with early stage breast cancer for 10 sessions.

Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center Integrative Medicine and Wellness-

Stephanie Stahl