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Breast. 2007 Jun;16(3):223-34. Epub 2007 Mar 21.

Aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgia syndrome.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 44 Binney Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA. <>


Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are widely used as an adjuvant endocrine treatment in postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer. Clinical trials have assessed 5 years of AI therapy, either as an alternative to tamoxifen for primary adjuvant therapy of breast cancer, or after 5 years of adjuvant tamoxifen. Treatment of 2-3 years' duration after 2-3 years of tamoxifen has also been studied. AI therapy brings side effects related to estrogen deprivation, and this side effect profile differs in clinically relevant ways from that seen with tamoxifen. In particular, the selective estrogen receptor modulatory effects of tamoxifen contribute to menopausal symptoms, vaginal discharge, and the rare but worrisome risks of thromboembolism and uterine carcinoma. By contrast, the low levels of estrogen achieved with aromatase inhibition contribute to menopausal symptoms, vaginal dryness and sexual dysfunction, and accelerated bone demineralization with risk of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fracture. Clinical experience also suggests that AI therapy is associated with a novel musculoskeletal side effect consisting of an arthralgia syndrome. The actual incidence of AI-associated arthralgias or musculoskeletal symptoms is not known, though such symptoms are quite prevalent and appear more commonly with AI use than with tamoxifen. Arthralgias can be a reason for discontinuation of AI treatment. The possible mechanisms of AI-associated arthralgia are unclear. Estrogen deficiency causes bone loss, which in turn contributes to arthralgia. Less well-studied functions of estrogen include regulating immune cells and cytokines involved in bone remodeling, and modulating pain sensitivity at the level of the central nervous system. Arthralgia and arthritis have seldom been rigorously differentiated in clinical trials of AIs. Assessment of inflammatory and rheumatologic markers, as well as detailed evaluation of patient symptoms using appropriate quality-of-life instruments, may be warranted in order to understand both the symptoms and the etiology of the arthralgia syndrome. Treatment options for arthralgia (primarily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are currently inadequate, but areas of active research include high-dose vitamin D and new-targeted therapies to inhibit bone loss.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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