Walking Away From Cancer Rx Stiffness

Breast cancer patients on aromatase inhibitor therapy find stiffness relief from walking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) After primary treatment, many breast cancer patients are given medicine to keep the disease from returning. Medicines called aromatase inhibitors block the production of estrogen, the hormone that feeds most breast cancers. Side effects of these medications can include joint pain and stiffness.

A small study found that walking helped older breast cancer survivors on aromatase inhibitor (AI) therapy find relief from medication-related joint stiffness, pain, and fatigue.

In addition to easing discomfort, at the end of the study, most of the women said they were motivated to continue walking.

"Take a walk."

Kirsten A. Nyrop, PhD, a research associate with the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, led the pilot study.

AI therapy is given to postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. There are currently three AIs available: Aromasin (exemestane), Femara (letrozole), and Arimidex (anastrozole).

These medications, usually taken for five years following primary treatment, help breast cancer survivors live longer.

However, an estimated 20 to 32 percent of the women taking AIs discontinue the therapy because of the joint pain and stiffness known as AI-associated arthralgia.

The goal of this study was to see if physical activity could help breast cancer survivors continue their AI therapy while living without pain.

Researchers chose the Arthritis Foundation’s Walking With Ease (WWE) program that has been proven to ease arthritis-related joint stiffness, pain and fatigue.

The WWE program was modified for 20 older breast cancer survivors aged 65 and older.

Before and after six weeks of participating in the walking program, researchers surveyed the women. At completion, researchers interviewed the participants about their experiences.

Researchers saw substantial improvements in three areas — the number of times per week the women walked, the number of minutes walked during each session, and the total number of minutes walked during a week’s time.

Participants’ joint pain was reduced by an average of 10 percent, fatigue decreased by 19 percent, and joint stiffness fell by 32 percent, the study found.

All 20 of the women said they would recommend the program to other breast cancer survivors who had joint stiffness or pain.

All of the participants also reported they learned how to use physical activity to relieve joint problems and how to safely engage in moderate physical activity.

Almost all (90 percent) of the survivors said the WWE program spurred their motivation to become more physically active and taught them how to overcome both physical and mental barriers to walking.

And 90 percent of the women said they felt confident that they would continue walking.

These results didn't surprise Jim Crowell, owner and head trainer at Fitness in Pittsburgh. He told dailyRx News, "The body needs to be treated like a well-oiled machine. If you don't have any activity in your life, your muscles grow weaker and you grow less able to use your body functionally. Often times, adding activity can wake your body up and show a lessening of physical pain because you are getting blood to flow around your entire body," Crowell said.

"I've seen many people come to me who are sedentary and who are in pain," Crowell continued, "and after a steady flow of quality physical activity and nutrition, they begin to feel better than they even believed that they could. Even light physical activity can provide wonderful benefits to people of all ages," Crowell said.

Findings from this study were presented at the American College of Rheumatology 2013 Annual Meeting.

It should be noted that all research is considered preliminary before it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.

None of the authors reported any conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
October 24, 2013
Last Updated:
October 26, 2013