Breast cancer patients may benefit from taking high-dose vitamin D to relieve pain in their joints and muscles caused by estrogen-reducing drugs, according to a new study published online in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
The drugs – called aromatase inhibitors – help keep cancer from coming back by shrinking breast tumors that feed on estrogen, according to a press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Unfortunately, the drugs can cause severe pain and stiffness in the hips, lower back, knees, shoulders, hands and feet.
“About half of patients can experience these symptoms,” said Dr. Antonella L. Rastelli, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the university. “We don’t know exactly why the pain occurs, but it can be very debilitating – to the point that patients decide to stop taking aromatase inhibitors.”
For the study, 60 breast cancer patients having pain from anastrozole – one of three aromatase inhibitors approved by the Food and Drug Administration – were divided into two groups. The first group took the recommended daily dose of vitamin D – 400 international units – and a 50,000-unit vitamin D capsule once a week. The other group also took the recommended vitamin D dosage with a weekly placebo. All participants took 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily.
“High dose vitamin D seems to be really effective in reducing the musculoskeletal pain caused by aromatase inhibitors,” Rastelli said. “Patients who get the vitamin D weekly feel better because their pain is reduced and sometimes goes away completely. This makes the drugs much more tolerable. Millions of women worldwide take aromatase inhibitor therapy, and we may have another ‘tool’ to help them remain on it longer.”
The study was supported by Astra-Zeneca, a pharmaceutical company that makes the aromatase inhibitor anastrozole.
Patients should always follow their doctor’s medical advice.
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