Androgens and musculoskeletal symptoms among breast cancer patients on aromatase inhibitor therapy

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2011 Nov;130(2):569-77. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1611-2. Epub 2011 Jun 7.


Aromatase inhibitors (AIs), the adjuvant hormonal treatment of choice for postmenopausal estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, are associated with an increased risk of musculoskeletal symptoms. The underlying cause of the symptoms is often attributed to estrogen depletion, yet all women treated with AIs have low estrogen levels and only a subset develop symptoms. Concentrations of circulating androgens may be mediating factors contributing to these side effects. The purpose of this study was to examine changes in androgen concentrations among women initiating AI therapy and to determine if concentrations are associated with musculoskeletal symptoms. Data were analyzed from a cohort study of 74 breast cancer patients for whom AI therapy was planned. Questionnaire data on symptoms were collected and blood was drawn prior to AI therapy (baseline) and then again at 3 and 6 months after baseline. Blood was assayed for testosterone, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS), and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Free testosterone index (FTI) values were calculated using testosterone and SHBG measurements. The results showed that concentrations of all of the androgens increased over the study period, with statistically significant differences from baseline concentrations observed for the FTI at 3 and 6 months and for DHEAS at 6 months. Additionally, breast cancer patients with new onset or worsening of pain over the study period had a significantly smaller change in mean DHEAS concentration from baseline to 3 months (P = 0.04) and a marginally significant smaller change in mean DHEAS concentration from baseline to 6 months (P = 0.1) compared to those who reported no pain at all time points or no worsening of pain across the study period. Changes in testosterone, androstenedione, and the FTI were not associated with the onset or worsening of pain during the study period. Findings from this study suggest that higher DHEAS concentrations are associated with less AI-associated pain and should be further investigated.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anastrozole
  • Androstadienes / adverse effects
  • Androstadienes / therapeutic use
  • Androstenedione / blood
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Letrozole
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / physiopathology*
  • Nitriles / adverse effects
  • Nitriles / therapeutic use*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Triazoles / adverse effects
  • Triazoles / therapeutic use*


  • Androstadienes
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Nitriles
  • Triazoles
  • Anastrozole
  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Letrozole
  • exemestane