Aromatase inhibitors, the same drugs that have buoyed long-term survival rates among breast cancer patients, also carry side effects including joint pain so severe that many patients discontinue these lifesaving medicines. New Penn Medicine research, however, has revealed patterns that may help clinicians identify and help women at risk of these symptoms sooner, in order to increase their chances of sticking with their treatment regimen. It's all part of the Abramson Cancer Center's (ACC) ongoing effort to help patients live as well as they can both during their treatment and as they transition into their new lives as cancer survivors.
In a study published recently in the journal of Cancer, researchers from the ACC found that estrogen withdrawal may play a role int he onset of joint pain, or arthralgia: Women who stopped getting their menstrual periods less than five years before starting treatment were more likely to experience these pains than those who reached menopause more than a decade earlier. In a separate study published in the journal Integrative Oncology Therapies, the Penn researchers found that women experiencing symptoms during treatment who received electro-acupuncture -- a technique that combines traditional acupuncture with electric stimulation -- reported a reduction in the severity of joint pain and stiffness, and said they suffered less fatigue and anxiety.
"These finding are just a first step in our comprehensive research program aimed at understanding the nature of treatment-related symptoms, who is likely to get them, the mechanisms by which they occur, and how to best treat them," said Angela DeMichele, MD, of Medicine and Epidemiology and Biostatistics. "Our ultimate goal is to be able to identify those patients at greatest risk for treatment-related symptoms and late effects, and personalize our approach to therapy in a way that will prevent patients from having to experience the debilitating effects of cancer treatment while maximizing the likelihood of cure."
DeMichele and her co-author, Jun-Mao, MD, of Family Medicine and Community Health (who heads the ACC's integrative oncology program), are running a comprehensive Wellness after Breast Cancer study. It will examine how clinical and genetic factors relate to symptoms such as joint pain, hot flashes, insomnia, and fatigue both during and after cancer treatment.
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Aromatase Inhibitor-Related Arthralgia (Joint Pain) Fact Sheet
Breast Cancer - Rena Rowan Breast Center