Breast Cancer Treatment | Joint Pain Relief

After Breast Cancer Treatment, many women are prescribed aromatase inhibitors* to prevent recurrence of estrogen sensitive tumors.  These drugs have a common side effect of joint pain that causes many women to stop using them, thus increasing their risk of a recurrence.   Surprisingly a drug company has sponsored research on natural nutrient supplementation with glucosamine and chondroitin for the relief of aromatase inhibitor related joint pain.

Results of the study show that combined use of glucosamine and chondroitin are of benefit to breast cancer patients experiencing joint pain and stiffness related to the use of aromatase inhibitors.

Additional common side effects of these drugs include hot flashes, sleep disruption, depression and bone loss. These side effects are not relieved by glucosamine and chondroitin therapy which targets only joint linings, cartilage and connective tissues including tendons and ligaments where estrogen receptors are found.

The most recent study by Dr. Heather Greenlee of Columbia University, New York focused upon postmenopausal breast cancer patients without metastatic disease who had been on aromatase therapy for at least 3 months, who reported a pain rating of 4 or higher on a 10-point scale, and whose pain worsened after initiating treatment with aromatase inhibitors if they had preexisting osteoarthritis.

Participants were a diverse group of ethnicities and on the average 3.5 years post breast cancer treatment.  Each woman took 1500 mg/day of glucosamine and 1200 mg/day of chondroitin, and were evaluated every 6 weeks for 40 weeks.

According to Dr. Greenlee, “There was a drop in pain and stiffness in the hips and knees at 12 and 24 weeks, as well as improvement in function affecting about 50% of the women. We saw a very similar pattern looking at the hands and the wrist. We saw similar results with about 35% to 50% of women.”

Other studies have shown that supplementation with Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is very effective in relieving joint and bone pain associated with aromatase inhibitor side effects.  (NB: In my practice I have observed patients enjoy significant pain relief with Vitamin D supplementation.) Low Vitamin D Levels are also linked to more aggressive breast cancers.

Additionally Acupuncture is very effective for relieving joint pain and other side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Natural aromatase inhibitors are more mild and do not produce the same number or intensity of side effects. Natural aromatase inhibitors include resveratrol and chrysin. Oncologists do not recommend natural aromatase inhibitors as there are no formal studies available to date.