Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs) are medications that are used exclusively in post-menopausal women who have hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. AIs should not be taken alone for breast cancer treatment in premenopausal women because it is unsafe and can increase hormone levels.
3 types of medication: Anastrozole (Arimidex), Letrozole (Femara), and Exemestane (Aromasin).
For postmenapausal women AIs have consistently been shown to improve outcomes compared to Tamoxifen (which is acceptable as well).
Overall, they are generally tolerated well.
Common Side Effects:
1. Muscle Aches
2. Joint Aches, worsening of arthritis symptoms
3. Bone loss (osteoporosis/osteopenia)
4. Sexual Dysfunction
Muscle and joint aches are the most common by far. Generally, can be controlled by exercise and anti-inflammatory medications. Alternative medicine, such as Acupuncture can also help. Bone loss is very important to monitor and a bone density scan should be done every 2 years
Uncommon Side Effects:
2. Hair Thinning
4. Poor sleep hygiene
Although hair thinning is less reported, it can be improved with topical drugs such as minoxidil.
It’s important to understand the effectiveness of hormonal therapy in the most common subtype of breast cancer. Remember compliance with your hormone medication is important to tackling this cancer and don’t shy away from informing your oncologist regarding these side effects or any others you may experience while on these AI medications. Not all medications may have the same side effect as well so a switch in therapy may sometimes be all you need if you do have intolerable side effects to one.
Know the treatment you are on and always remember to discuss any side effects you have with your oncologist so you both can formulate the best plan forward for you.