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Moderate daily exercise can significantly reduce joint pain associated with aromatase inhibitor treatment for patients with breast cancer, according to data from the Yale Hormones and Physical Exercise (HOPE) study. The study results were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held December 10 to14, in Texas.

Researchers followed 121 postmenopausal women who were taking aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer and who rated their joint pain as mild or greater on a pain evaluation questionnaire. Of the group, 61 were randomly assigned to 2 supervised strength training sessions and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. The rest followed their normal activities.

One year later, joint pain scores decreased by 20% among women in the exercise group and by 3% in the normal activity group. The women who exercised also said the severity of their joint pain decreased significantly more than those in the other group, and they also reported a lower degree of the pain interfering with their lives.

Jennifer Ligibel, MD, the study's senior author, who practices at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, notes that the study is one of the first to identify a nonmedical approach that can lower joint pain for patients. Exercise can enable them to continue taking the drugs and better manage their side effects, she adds.

Aromatase inhibitors are recommended for all postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to reduce the risk of recurrence. Up to half the patients who take these drugs experience joint pain, and many discontinue them for that reason.

The Yale HOPE study's lead author is Melinda Irwin, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut.