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Clin Breast Cancer. 2010 Apr;10(2):144-7. doi: 10.3816/CBC.2010.n.019.

Rheumatic disorders and functional disability with aromatase inhibitor therapy.

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  • 1Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, Department of Internal Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond 23298-0263, USA.



Aromatase inhibitor therapy is often effective for breast cancer, yet it can be accompanied by musculoskeletal pain and stiffness. This prevalence assessment aimed to characterize a rheumatologist's view of frequency and clinical features, including associated disability, within a breast cancer clinic panel of 77 patients.


The "aromatase inhibitor arthralgia" frequency was estimated at 50%, including both those with new and worsened discomfort. Substantial functional disability was associated, whether measured by individual functional disability (frequencies ranging from 39% to 61%) or composite score of 7 functional disability areas (median score 5 compared with median 0 in the comparison group; P = .00003).


The frequency of clinical hand osteoarthritis appeared somewhat increased in the aromatase inhibitor arthralgia group (28% vs. 14%; not statistically significant). Yet the distribution of aromatase inhibitor-related symptoms and functional disabilities appeared to parallel those joint regions commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Using clinical criteria to assess 5 common rheumatic disorders (hand osteoarthritis, trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, Raynaud's phenomenon, and sicca syndrome), the aromatase inhibitor arthralgia group tended to have more common rheumatic disorders (P < .05), consistent with nociceptive mechanisms making latent disorders symptomatic.


Aromatase inhibitor therapy for postmenopausal breast cancer might be associated with common musculoskeletal symptoms and with substantial functional disability and should prompt patient education. In view of the potential relevance of estrogen deprivation to osteoarthritis onset and severity, future studies of natural history should include systematic assessment of osteoarthritis frequency and severity.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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