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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Jan 10;1:CD013167. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013167.pub2.

Systemic therapies for preventing or treating aromatase inhibitor-induced musculoskeletal symptoms in early breast cancer.

The Cochrane database of systematic reviews

Kate E Roberts, India T Adsett, Kirsty Rickett, Sophie M Conroy, Mark D Chatfield, Natasha E Woodward


  1. Department of Medical Oncology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Australia.
  2. School of Clinical Medicine, Mater Clinical Unit, Mater Hospital, University of Queensland, South Brisbane, Australia.
  3. Ipswich Hospital, Queensland Health, Ipswich, Australia.
  4. The University of Queensland Library, UQ/Mater McAuley Library, Brisbane, Australia.
  5. Medical Oncology, Mater Health, Brisbane, Australia.
  6. Centre for Health Services Research, The University of Queensland, Woolloongabba, Australia.
  7. Department of Medical Oncology, Mater Misericordiae Ltd, South Brisbane, Australia.

PMID: 35005781 DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013167.pub2


BACKGROUND: Adjuvant aromatase inhibitors (AI) improve survival compared to tamoxifen in postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive stage I to III breast cancer. In approximately half of these women, AI are associated with aromatase inhibitor-induced musculoskeletal symptoms (AIMSS), often described as symmetrical pain and soreness in the joints, musculoskeletal pain and joint stiffness. AIMSS may have significant and prolonged impact on women's quality of life. AIMSS reduces adherence to AI therapy in up to a half of women, potentially compromising breast cancer outcomes. Differing systemic therapies have been investigated for the prevention and treatment of AIMSS, but the effectiveness of these therapies remains unclear.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of systemic therapies on the prevention or management of AIMSS in women with stage I to III hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and Clinicaltrials.gov registries to September 2020 and the Cochrane Breast Cancer Group (CBCG) Specialised Register to March 2021.  SELECTION CRITERIA: We included all randomised controlled trials that compared systemic therapies to a comparator arm. Systemic therapy interventions included all pharmacological therapies, dietary supplements, and complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). All comparator arms were allowed including placebo or standard of care (or both) with analgesia alone. Published and non-peer-reviewed studies were eligible.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently screened studies, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias and certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach. Outcomes assessed were pain, stiffness, grip strength, safety data, discontinuation of AI, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), breast cancer-specific quality of life (BCS-QoL), incidence of AIMSS, breast cancer-specific survival (BCSS) and overall survival (OS). For continuous outcomes, we used vote-counting by reporting how many studies reported a clinically significant benefit within the confidence intervals (CI) of the mean difference (MD) between treatment arms, as determined by the minimal clinically importance difference (MCID) for that outcome scale. For dichotomous outcomes, we reported outcomes as a risk ratio (RR) with 95% CI.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 17 studies with 2034 randomised participants. Four studies assessed systemic therapies for the prevention of AIMSS and 13 studies investigated treatment of AIMSS. Due to the variation in systemic therapy studies, including pharmacological, and CAM, or unavailable data, meta-analysis was limited, and only two trials were combined for meta-analysis. The certainty of evidence for all outcomes was either low or very low certainty. Prevention studies The evidence is very uncertain about the effect of systemic therapies on pain (from baseline to the end of the intervention; 2 studies, 183 women). The two studies, investigating vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, showed a treatment effect with 95% CIs that did not include an MCID for pain. Systemic therapies may have little to no effect on grip strength (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.37 to 3.17; 1 study, 137 women) or on women continuing to take their AI (RR 0.16, 95% 0.01 to 2.99; 1 study, 147 women). The evidence suggests little to no effect on HRQoL and BCS-QoL from baseline to the end of intervention (the same single study; 44 women, both quality of life outcomes showed a treatment effect with 95% CIs that did include an MCID). The evidence is very uncertain for outcomes assessing incidence of AIMSS (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.06; 2 studies, 240 women) and the safety of systemic therapies (4 studies, 344 women; very low-certainty evidence). One study had a US Food and Drug Administration alert issued for the intervention (cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitor) during the study, but there were no serious adverse events in this or any study. There were no data on stiffness, BCSS or OS. Treatment studies The evidence is very uncertain about the effect of systemic therapies on pain from baseline to the end of intervention in the treatment of AIMSS (10 studies, 1099 women). Four studies showed an MCID in pain scores which fell within the 95% CI of the measured effect (vitamin D, bionic tiger bone, Yi Shen Jian Gu granules, calcitonin). Six studies showed a treatment effect with 95% CI that did not include an MCID (vitamin D, testosterone, omega-3 fatty acids, duloxetine, emu oil, cat's claw).  The evidence was very uncertain for the outcomes of change in stiffness (4 studies, 295 women), HRQoL (3 studies, 208 women) and BCS-QoL (2 studies, 147 women) from baseline to the end of intervention. The evidence suggests systemic therapies may have little to no effect on grip strength (1 study, 107 women). The evidence is very uncertain about the safety of systemic therapies (10 studies, 1250 women). There were no grade four/five adverse events reported in any of the studies. The study of duloxetine reported more all-grade adverse events in this treatment group than comparator group. There were no data on the incidence of AIMSS, the number of women continuing to take AI, BCCS or OS from the treatment studies.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: AIMSS are chronic and complex symptoms with a significant impact on women with early breast cancer taking AI. To date, evidence for safe and effective systemic therapies for prevention or treatment of AIMSS has been minimal. Although this review identified 17 studies with 2034 randomised participants, the review was challenging due to the heterogeneous systemic therapy interventions and study methodologies, and the unavailability of certain trial data. Meta-analysis was thus limited and findings of the review were inconclusive. Further research is recommended into systemic therapy for AIMSS, including high-quality adequately powered RCT, comprehensive descriptions of the intervention/placebo, and robust definitions of the condition and the outcomes being studied.

Copyright © 2022 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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