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It’s common to experience painful joints when taking hormone therapy to treat breast cancer — especially drugs like letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane. We put some frequently asked questions about joint pain to our senior clinical nurse specialist, Rachel, based on questions from the Forum.
A: Aching or pain in the joints and muscles is often mild and temporary, although for some people it’s more severe and longer-lasting.
You can use mild pain relief like paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen. Before using anti-inflammatory pain relief, ask your doctor about the correct dose, how long you should use it for and any possible side effects, especially if you have a stomach ulcer or asthma.
Weight-bearing exercises such as walking may also help to strengthen up your muscles and help to protect the joints in your legs.
If the pain doesn’t improve talk to your doctor as there are other things that can be considered, for example, a referral to a doctor who specialises in pain management or switching to a different hormone therapy drug.
A: For many people, joint pain and stiffness will settle over time when you stop taking hormone therapy. However, for some people, normal wear and tear may mean that you will have some stiffness and pain in your joints as a result of the natural aging process. This is why it’s important, if you are able, to keep your joints as flexible as possible and your muscles strong by doing a combination of weight-bearing exercises like walking or dancing; and muscle-strengthening activities like yoga or lifting light weights.
A: Listening to your body is always important and it might help to have a chat with your treatment team about the pain you are experiencing. While it can be frustrating not to be able to walk as far as you usually do, its good that you are able to keep going. You may find it useful to work up slowly to that next mile and perhaps start some leg strengthening exercises that will help to protect your knees and hips. These videos from an exercise expert may help.
A: It’s really important to carry on taking your hormone therapy as prescribed as it may affect your outlook. Talk to someone in your treatment team before stopping anastrozole. Your doctor may suggest having a break from your treatment to see if it settles or may talk to you about switching you to another hormone therapy, to see if your joint pain improves.
A: It’s not possible to predict how any of these drugs will affect an individual.
The side effects of all three drugs are similar. However, some people may get on better with one drug than another.
For more information about how different treatments may affect you, check out our 'going through treatment' page.