Breast Cancer :: Women discontinue use of Aromatase Inhibitors

Breast Cancer Action (BCA) released a report today, in conjunction with a poster presentation at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, on the side effects of aromatase inhibitors (AIs). The report, “Side Effects Revealed: Women’s Experiences with Aromatase Inhibitors,” analyzes 612 women’s responses to an online survey of the drugs’ side effects.

Survey results show that nearly all respondents (96 percent) reported one or more side effects. Nearly 30 percent of the respondents reported discontinuing the use of an AI-84 percent because of intolerable side effects and close to half of them (47 percent) due to joint-related problems. Side effects reported by more than half of the survey respondents include stroke, cough, swelling of the arms and legs, flu-like symptoms, and anxiety. Many respondents also reported experiencing joint-related side effects, vaginal atrophy and dryness, a rise in cholesterol levels, and general pain.

More than a quarter of respondents (37 percent) reported receiving no information from their doctors about short-term side effects. Over half (63 percent) reported receiving no information from their doctors about long-term effects, but because AIs are relatively new, little long-term side effect data is available.

“The results of the survey clearly indicate that patients deciding whether or not to take these drugs need to be fully informed about the side effects and whether the use of an AI is actually appropriate for them,” said Marilyn Zivian, Ph.D., lead author of the report. “It’s very apparent that some of the women who responded to the survey are really suffering.”

“Patients know about side effects before their doctors do-they experience them firsthand,” said Barbara Brenner, executive director of BCA. “Now that hundreds of women taking aromatase inhibitors have spoken, it’s time for the medical research community to respond with additional research on the side effects of these drugs.” Brenner and Zivian are both living with breast cancer.

BCA launched the online survey in August 2005 to collect data on the side effects of this new class of breast cancer treatment drugs. The organization’s goals in providing the results are to enable patients to make better treatment decisions, doctors to make more informed recommendations, and the FDA to monitor AI side effects.

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