One of the most effective new treatments for breast cancer is a hormone therapy. Aromatase inhibitors work by powerfully blocking the conversion of androgen precursors into estrogens, which lowers estradiol levels in the bloodstream and estrogen levels in peripheral tissues. Because aromatase inhibitors reduce the rates of recurrence in women with early-stage postmenopausal breast cancer, these agents are not only becoming widely used in breast cancer treatment, but also being explored for their potential to prevent the disease in women at high risk. While focusing on this therapy's promise, advocates have tended to downplay one of its drawbacks. Women treated with aromatase inhibitors often experience joint pain and musculoskeletal aching--severe enough, in some cases, to make them stop the treatment.
Two noted researchers, David T. Felson, M.D., of Boston University Clinical Epidemiology Unit, and Steven R. Cummings, M.D., of California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute and University of California, San Francisco, have thoroughly examined the evidence linking aromatase inhibitors and, more broadly, estrogen deprivation joint pain. In the September 2005 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/arthritis), they share their insights to alert oncologists, primary care physicians, and other health care professionals to this widely overlooked, potential problem for women.
"Estrogen's effects on inflammation within the joint are not well known," Dr. Felson and Dr. Cummings observe. Yet, as they note, estrogen has well-established tissue-specific effects on inflammatory cytokines. Estrogen's role in joint inflammation could account for the increased sensitivity to pain that some women suffer with estrogen depletion. Citing studies of pharmacological suppression of estrogen and studies of natural menopause, the authors offer a look at compelling evidence associating estrogen deprivation with joint pain, including:
Dr. Felson and Dr. Cummings also highlight recent data showing that Asian women undergoing menopause have lower estradiol levels than Caucasian women and seem to be more vulnerable to a syndrome commonly known as "menopausal arthritis." They also note the high rate of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in postmenopausal women. They conclude by stressing the need for further research into the contribution of estrogen deficiency to arthritis, as well as for recognizing the risks of musculoskeletal syndrome when prescribing aromatase inhibitors and other estrogen-depleting treatments.
Article: "Aromatase Inhibitors and the Syndrome of Arthralgias With Estrogen Deprivation," David T. Felson and Steven R. Cummings, Arthritis & Rheumatism, September 2005; 52:9; pp. 2594-2598.
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