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Exercise Can Cut Joint Pain in Breast Cancer Patients

Update Date: Dec 12, 2013 11:07 AM EST

Studies have found mounting evidence that exercise, in general, is good for one's overall wellbeing. In a new study, researchers found that exercise could help alleviate joint pain caused by taking breast cancer drugs. According to the background information, breast cancer drugs classified as aromatase inhibitors can cause varying levels of joint pain that interfere with the daily lives of breast cancer patients.

"Joint pain, or arthralgia, which occurs in up to half of breast cancer patients who take aromatase inhibitors, is one of the major drawbacks of these drugs," the study's senior author, Jennifer Ligibel, MD, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber, said. "The pain leads many to discontinue the drugs, which can increase the chance that the cancer will return. Identifying a way to help women tolerate these drugs is a very important finding."

For this study, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Yale University surveyed 121 postmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer who were on aromatase inhibitors. The survey aimed to assess how much pain, ranging from mild to greater, the patients had and whether or not exercise could ease that pain. 61 women were randomly placed in the exercise group where they had two strength training classes per week. The women also participated in an average of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. The other group was told to carry out their normal daily activities.

The researchers assessed pain levels after one year. They found that women in the exercise group had joint pain scores that were 20 percent lower. The other group only experienced a three percent reduction in their pain scores. The exercise group also reported lower levels of severe pain and stated that the pain interfered less with their everyday lives.

"This is one of the first studies to identify an approach - particularly a non-medical approach - that can effectively lower joint pain for these patients," said Ligibel. "Exercise offers an attractive option for patients who want to continue taking these drugs but who are burdened by their side effects."

The study was presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

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