Women being treated with breast cancer drugs known as aromatase inhibitors can markedly ease the joint pain associated with the drugs by engaging in moderate daily exercise, according to research.
Findings from the study, done by investigators at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Yale University in New Haven, Conn., were presented Dec. 12 during the San Antonio (Texas) Breast Cancer Symposium.
The study tracked 121 postmenopausal women who were taking aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer and who rated their joint pain as mild or greater on a standard pain-evaluation questionnaire. Researchers randomly assigned 61 of them to participate in two supervised strength-training sessions a week and to engage in an average of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. The other participants followed their normal daily activities.
After a year, joint pain scores decreased by 20% among the women in the exercise group and by 3% in the other group. The severity of joint pain also decreased significantly more in those who exercised than in those who didnt, as did the degree to which pain interfered with their lives.
This is one of the first studies to identify an approach particularly a non-medical approach that can effectively lower joint pain for these patients, Jennifer Ligibel, MD, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Womens Cancers at Dana-Farber and the studys senior author, said in a news release. Exercise offers an attractive option for patients who want to continue taking these drugs but who are burdened by their side effects.
Aromatase inhibitors are recommended for all postmenopausal women with breast cancer categorized as hormone receptor-positive, meaning the cancer cells grow and divide in response to estrogen. The drugs, which prevent other hormones from being converted into estrogen, can reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence.
Joint pain, or arthralgia, which occurs in up to half of breast cancer patients who take aromatase inhibitors, is one of the major drawbacks of these drugs, Ligibel said in the release. The pain leads many to discontinue the drugs, which can increase the chance that the cancer will return. Identifying a way to help women tolerate these drugs is a very important finding.
The studys lead author is Melinda Irwin, PhD, MPH, who leads the Yale HOPE Study, which recruited the study participants.