Real Women, Real Talk: Patient Guide
Staying With Your Meds: All About AIs
By MAMM Editorial Board
So youíve battled your way through surgery, chemo or radiation (or all three!) and come out of it amazed by your resilience. But the fightís not over yet. If youíre post-menopausal and your tumor was hormone receptor-positive, your oncologist probably prescribed one of the drugs known as aromatase inhibitors (AIs). This is powerful stuff: Research shows that these medsóbrand names Arimidex, Femara and Aromasinóare better than tamoxifen at preventing recurrences, keeping new cancer from developing in the other breast and preventing metastases to other parts of the body. One multi-center study published this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that Femara can cut the risk of all recurrences by 63 percent for up to seven years after tamoxifen therapy ends. Thatís some weapon to have on your side.
Currently, doctors recommend taking AIs daily for five years to get the full protective effect. Should be no problem, right? Yeah, well... Like any drug, AIs can cause side effects, some of which can make you miserable. And letís face it: Staying on a strong cancer drug for that long is a big commitment. The result? A lot of unfilled prescriptions. One large-scale study of women on Arimidex found that as many as 22 to 31 percent of early-stage breast cancer patients stopped getting refills after year one. At the three-year mark, the total had risen from 32 to 50 percent.
True, there are some women whose lives are badly compromised by the drugs, and you may be one of them. But if youíre thinking of going off your AI, you should know that this isnít like skipping a vitamin pillóthis could be your life at stake. Thatís why weíve put together this special MAMM guide to AIs, with strategies to help you work with your health care team, own your treatment choices and give yourself the best shot possible at staying free of breast cancer. When youíre playing with a dirty dealer like cancer, ignorance is definitely not bliss.
In MAMM style, we offer the thoughts and experiences of oncologists and nurses who treat patients on AIs, with stories from women who have been there and know what itís like. Some of these women did stop taking their meds, switch to other AIs or even go on tamoxifen, but most were like Edna Baker, a 59-year-old teacher from Peoria, Illinois, who told us: ďI feel that Femara is helping me stave off another bout of cancer, and thatís very important to me. And Iím just doing everything I want to in lifeóand enjoying it!Ē