Summary: A self-directed walking program shows promise in easing joint stiffness among older women who experience these symptoms while taking the “anti-estrogen” drugs known as aromatase inhibitors. This is the conclusion of research present this week at the America College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in San Diego (USA).
Background: Postmenopausal women with breast cancer whose treatment often includes an aromatase inhibitor (AI) often experience joint pain or stiffness as a side effect. Some studies have suggested that up to 20-32% will stop taking the drug because of this side effect. But the incorporation of these drugs into the breast cancer management program has led to impressive reductions in breast cancer recurrence and death.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA) conducted a pilot study to see whether physical activity could improve joint pain or stiffness. Women in the program followed the walking program for six weeks. Twenty patients participated, all of whom were 65 or older, had Stage I-III disease, and reported joint pain or stiffness associated with an aromatase inhibitor.
Results: At the end of the study, 100% of the study participants said that they would recommend the program to other breast cancer survivors experiencing joint pain or stiffness. The average joint pain scoopers among the participants decreased by 10 percent, fatigue decreased by 19 percent, and joint stiffness dropped by 32 percent.
My Take: For selected postmenopausal patients with breast cancers driven by estrogen, aromatase inhibitors can provide improvements in survival and relapse chances. But these women are much more likely to experience side effects such as hot flashes, night sweat, cold swears, joint pain and stiffness, as well as other problems. Simply walking may help with the common side effect of joint pain and stiffness. I typically suggest a minimum of 30 minutes of the equivalent of a brisk walk, 5 to 6 times per week.
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Reference: American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting (San Diego, 2013).