27 November 2010
Last night was one of the worst. It started at about 2:00 am. Bone pain in my feet and legs so horrific that even the bed covers draped over my legs caused terrible discomfort. I try very hard not to take prescription pain pills as I’ve taken so many the past six months, so I did my best to endure it with meditation and over-the-counter meds in hopes that the throbbing would go away. Nothing seemed to work. So at noon today I finally broke down and took the power meds.
Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) have quickly become standard treatments for women like me - postmenopausal with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Searching for answers today on how I can get this pain to go away, I happened upon a study launched by Breast Cancer Action in 2005, with the final results released in 2008 – Side Effects Revisited: Women’s Experiences with Aromatase Inhibitors. The majority of women (83.4%) reported that they were taking an AI like Arimidex for the same reason as me - to reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence.
The results, taken from 1,200 women who took Arimidex (also known as anastrozole), are enlightening, especially when you’ve been up most of the night with this terrible pain:
· 64 percent of respondents complained of bone pain,
· Almost 60 percent had muscle pain,
· 48 percent indicated “mental fuzziness” as a side effect,
· Over 40 percent had weight gain,
· 31 percent experienced depression, and
· The number one side effect (67%) was hot flashes.
Ninety-six percent of respondents complained of at least one or more of the 38 total side effects listed in the study. One woman who participated in the study said, “This is quite a difficult choice to make between quality of life and fear of recurrence! Help us please find another way.” Another respondent said, “Severe joint pain. Extreme fatigue. Hot flashes. Felt like I was 80 years old rather than 43.”
There are many days that I do feel physically exhausted, especially if I've really pushed myself with a terribly busy schedule that requires lots of physical participation, and I mean simply walking, standing, etc. I always suffer later. But days like today, and nights like last night are the worst. I can endure exhaustion, but pain is another story. So, it’s easy to understand why some women choose to quit the Arimidex treatment regime.
One women in the survey said, “I wanted my life back. My family said I had lost my spirit.” In the waiting room at the UAMS oncology clinic, I recently met another breast cancer fighter who had just thrown in the towel on Arimidex and is now taking Tamoxifen. Again, I can understand.
But here’s what I know to be true:
The results of an 8-year multinational study called the Arimidex, Tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination (ATAC) trial involving over 6,000 women, showed that women taking Arimidex had better outcomes than women taking Tamoxifen.
The study worked like this - following breast cancer treatment with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these primary treatments, the patients were randomly allocated to receive Arimidex, Tamoxifen or both drugs for 5 years. The results showed that 5 years of Arimdex is better than 5 years of Tamoxifen for:
· increasing the time before the cancer comes back
· reducing the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body
How do you define quality of life? Well, for me, it IS life. If Tamoxifen is not as effective at reducing the cancer recurrence risk, I’m staying with Arimidex. For me, the benefits of life far outweigh the discomfort of bone and muscle pain, even if this will be my destiny for the next five years.
My next search . . . effective pain management techniques. Any and all suggestions are welcome, especially from Arimidex veterans.
Posted by Stacy Sells at 3:04 PM