Georgetown Univeristy Logo Aromatase inhibitors (AI), a popular breast cancer drugs leading to joint pain may not be as harmful as previously thought. A recent study suggests that aromatase inhibitors are not linked with arthritis or autoimmune disease. The findings affirm that women primarily concerned about arthritis can continue taking the medication.

AI is assumed to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence, but joint complaints are reported by up to 35 percent women. 25 postmenopausal breast cancer patients with hand pain and no known autoimmune disease along with 23 participants as a control group were comprised in the study. Volunteers were abstained from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for 48 hours prior to inspection. In this time frame signs of inflammation from arthritis could possibly reappear. After completing a health assessment questionnaire, the rheumatologist completed a history and physical, and disease activity score. Study subjects were subjected to several blood tests, x-rays and ultrasounds.

Victoria K Shanmugam, MBBS, MRCP, assistant professor in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Georgetown University Medical Center, who led the study, said, “Although our study helps to rule out inflammatory arthritis or autoimmune disease, we do not know why women using AIs have these musculoskeletal symptoms. Still, knowing that the drugs are not promoting inflammatory arthritis may be beneficial to a number of women. It would be prudent to refer those experiencing joint pain to a rheumatologist to rule out a previously undiagnosed autoimmune disease, and so that we can help address the symptoms. Since the syndrome doesn’t appear to be related to inflammatory arthritis, women should be encouraged to stay on their medication so they can gain the full benefit from it.”

The rheumatologist and radiologist were not informed about which participants consumed AIs and which did not. 4 of 48 women with autoimmune disease 2 in each group possibly had similar frequency in women receiving AIs and those without the medication. Most patients in the control apparently had a similar constellation of symptoms to those receiving AIs. Scientists were probably unable to gather conclusive evidence of inflammatory arthritis in breast cancer patients.

The study is presented on November 9 at the 74th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta, Georgia.