The Down & Dirty on Aromatase Inhibitors for Breast Cancer Treatment

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The Down & Dirty on Aromatase Inhibitors for Breast Cancer Treatment

The subject of aromatase inhibitors was huge for me when I was going through my treatment for breast cancer, and I know it is for others so I believe it deserves a bit of room today in my blog post.

What are Aromatase Inhibitors?

Okay, so what the heck are aromatase inhibitors?  They are drugs that stop the production of estrogen in post-menopausal women – they work by blocking the enzyme aromatase, which turns the hormone “androgen” into small amounts of estrogen in the body.

This means that less estrogen is available to stimulate the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells.  They are only recommended for post-menopausal women because they cannot keep the ovaries from making estrogen. 

Why Doctors Recommend Aromatase Inhibitors

A number of studies have been done on aromatase inhibitors, and based on the results of those studies, most doctors recommend that after initial treatment (surgery and possibly chemotherapy and radiation therapy), women take aromatase inhibitors because when treating early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, aromatase inhibitors were shown by the drug studies to have more benefits and fewer serious side effects than tamoxifen.

Additionally, the studies showed that switching to an aromatase inhibitor after taking tamoxifen for 2 to 3 years (for a total of 5 years of hormonal therapy) offered more benefits than 5 years of tamoxifen.  The studies also indicated that taking an aromatase inhibitor for 5 years after taking tamoxifen for 5 years continued to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, compared to no treatment after tamoxifen.

Why Women Hate Aromatase Inhibitors

The problem is the side effects of these drugs.  One woman reported “hot flashes/night sweats, general muscle and joint aches, and memory failings.  But most alarming, arthritis-like pain in finger joints has been making everyday tasks difficult.”  Another woman said she had stiffness in her limbs, lots of pain and/or numbness in her hands and feet upon waking, her knees cracked when she walked up and down the steps, she had difficulty stepping on and off of buses, stiffness in her hips when getting out of chairs and had to limp a lot!

These were relatively younger women – feeling like they were in their 90’s.  Considering the fact that the doctors recommend we be on these drugs for 5 years or more, that’s a very long time to feel like that.  Apparently there is also a risk of increased osteoporosis.  Great.

Having said that, there are many cases where it’s an excellent idea to be taking these drugs.  It’s beyond my scope of knowledge to tell you which of you should be taking them.  My advice follows.

My Advice

Obviously I am not a doctor and I cannot tell you what to do here – that’s not my purpose.  I only want to present the facts and the research that I have done.  For myself, I chose not to take aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen.  This might not be the right decision for you.  I would recommend you take a long look at the research, see what others have said about it, talk to your doctors, and additionally seek the advice of a trained naturopath (natural medicine doctor).

Update:  I have written an article on natural aromatase inhibitors.  Whatever you decide, make it YOUR choice.  This is your body and you have every right to decide what goes in it!

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