A drug typically used to treat depression and anxiety can significantly reduce joint pain in postmenopausal women being treated for early stage breast cancer, says a study.
The research conducted a trial to test whether duloxetine, a depression and anxiety drug, could alleviate pain caused by aromatase inhibitors, a common breast cancer treatment that’s particularly effective with postmenopausal women.
“We’ve shown that this treatment is a potential option for women,” said N Lynn Henry, a SWOG investigator from Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in the US.
SWOG is the international cancer clinical trials network funded by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“Taking this drug may help them tolerate their breast cancer treatment. And it’s important for their health that they stick with their treatment,” Henry noted.
Tens of thousands of postmenopausal women each year are treated with aromatase inhibitors (AIs), pills that stop the production of estrogen and essentially starve hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells.
Many women -- as many as 50 per cent -- experience joint pain and stiffness as a side effect of the therapy.
Henry said some women stop taking their medication to get relief.
“A lot of 60-year-old women report feeling like they’re 80,” Henry said.
“The pain can really interfere with daily life. And this is a big problem. The length of treatment with AIs can be five to 10 years, so we’re asking a lot of women to manage significant discomfort for a very long period of time,” Henry noted.
Results of the trial involving nearly 300 women showed that patients taking duloxetine saw their average pain drop on the scale from 5.5 to about three.
Improvement was rapid, and relief persisted through the end of the 12-week trial.
Improvement in pain was also seen in the placebo arm of the trial, suggesting a robust placebo effect.
The findings were presented at a special plenary presentation at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in the US.