Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs) are medications for post-menopausal women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. AIs work by preventing hormones from being converted into estrogen, thereby hopefully reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.
AIs seem highly effective in helping reduce recurrence. The problem: AIs often have a side effect: joint pain, which prompts some women to stop taking the drug.
A recent study found that consistently exercising 150 minutes each week can significantly alleviate AI-related joint pain. The study was conducted on 121 women who rated their joint pain as mild or greater. Half of these subjects exercised 150 minutes a week for a year. The other half simply continued their normal activities.
The final result: those who exercised 150 minutes per week reported a lower joint pain score. The conclusion: exercise can lower AI-caused joint pain.
Exercise truly is excellent for the body on so many levels. And if it relieves any kind of pain, I’m all for it.
This study is a promising start, but I wonder – what about the women whose joint pain was so intense, it was crippling?
Were they included in the study?
And, even with exercise, how many of those with mild pain will develop severe pain anyway years later?
I know that not every woman experiences such intense joint pain, but for the women who do, I don’t think exercise is necessarily the panacea.
I know this firsthand.
I was on an AI during a very athletic period of my life. Even before I began taking this medication, my exercise regime lasted at least 150 minutes per week, oftentimes more. I swam, ran, and did weight training for years prior to taking the AI. When I started taking this medication, I was still following this exercise regimen and felt great.
About a year into treatment, I noticed mild joint pain, but I ignored it and kept exercising.
Even when the joint pain started increasing, I didn’t falter in my exercise regime. I endured for another year, even though the pain went from mild to severe. I was desperate not to stop taking the medication, knowing it could help reduce a cancer recurrence.
With great resolve, I committed to continue using this drug, no matter how I felt.
Within six months of this vow, I was in agony. I couldn’t even walk or drive without extreme joint pain. Every single movement was agony and whenever I could, I cocooned in my bed and sobbed.
I made a feeble attempt to at least swim, but all I could do was the Dead Man’s Float. Very apropos. I cried as I gingerly left the pool.
The pain crippled me. I became bed-bound.
My oncologist put me on a different AI. Unfortunately, there was still no relief.
He took me off AIs altogether, saying “These aren’t the right medications for you.” Eventually, my body recovered. I gradually increased my exercise regime. And I eventually returned to a minimum 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Am I happy I was taken off the AI? Well, no. Well, yes. I was disappointed, as I wanted to keep taking the medication to help prevent a recurrence. But the AI issue was a quality-of-life issue.
And with the AI, my life had no quality.
So I was greatly relieved when I stopped taking the medication.
I’m so glad the researchers in the aforementioned study addressed AI-related joint pain. It’s a start. The joint-pain problem is real, and if exercise can alleviate it, that is wonderful.
However, what about the women like me who take the AIs as directed, exercise, and experience excruciating pain anyway? I’m not so convinced exercise can help them.
When my oncologist first prescribed the AI, I asked about side effects. He said I might experience some joint pain.
I can understand why he didn’t share that the joint pain could become unbearable and crippling. If physicians said that for every AI handed out, nobody would take the medication.
To this day, I don’t blame my oncologist for not disclosing the worst-case joint-pain scenario with me. On the other hand, doctors should be forthright in discussing AIs and joint pain. A patient shouldn’t have to ask about side effects before an oncologist will have a heart-to-heart discussion about them.
I’m hoping that one day AI-caused joint pain can be kicked to the curb. And this day can’t come soon enough.
What is your experience with AIs?
Did your doctor and you have an adequate discussion about side effects prior to treatment?
Do you have an exercise regimen?
Tags: Aromatase inhibitors, Aromatase Inhibitors and joint pain, Aromatase inhibitors side effects, joint pain and exercise