Reviewing the Common Side Effects of Letrozole
Last updated: August 2023
If you have advanced breast cancer, you may wonder, "What is letrozole?" Letrozole, brand name Femara®, is a hormone therapy drug that belongs to a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase inhibitors work by lowering estrogen levels in the body. Letrozole is given to those with estrogen-positive breast cancer who have already reached menopause.1
Sharing my side effects on letrozole
After having a conversation with my doctor, he informed me that those with lower stages of breast cancer may be on letrozole is up to 5 years, but the recommended duration for those with metastatic breast cancer can be the full length of their life. Since you can potentially be taking letrozole for a long time, it can be difficult when the medicine causes unwanted side effects. My side effects are hot flashes, joint pain, and bone pain.
As with most medicines, the list of side effects for letrozole is extensive, so I will just touch on the most common side effects and some ways I ease them. As always, check with your doctor before trying any over-the-counter medications, exercises, and supplements.2
Pain and aches in joints or muscles
This side effect is one of the most common complaints from people who take letrozole. Painful joints can affect movement and make it hard to participate in many activities. Ironically, you are in too much pain to move, but being stationary is worse. Once you do get up, you can barely walk.
But getting up and walking, doing stretches, and doing yoga are some of the best ways to ease joint and muscle pain. Do not stay stagnant. Move that body, and talk to your doctor about supplements and other options to help reduce pain.2
Hot flashes, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, skin itching and dryness, sleeping disturbances – the list goes on. To help manage hot flashes, it is recommended you stay away from spicy foods, dress in layers so you can remove clothing if you soak through with sweat, and drink lots of water. I personally have a handheld fan that I take with me everywhere.3,4
For skin dryness and itching, use a good cream or lotion specifically for dryness and itchiness. My favorite brand is Aquaphor. Sometimes I put it in the refrigerator and use it to cool down those hot flashes too. Speak with your gynecologist about the best lubrication and creams for vaginal dryness and loss of libido. Also, working with a physical therapist can help you learn pelvic floor exercises.
Good ol' mood swings. Happy, sad, angry, content, crying over commercials on TV, or rearranging your house because you hate everything. The first thing I recommend is meditation, yoga, and professional therapy to help with all those moods. If those methods do not help you, there are medicines your doctor can prescribe. I prefer the natural route if I can, but I understand it is not always possible.
Pros and cons of letrozole
In conclusion, letrozole is one of those drugs that you hate to love. The side effects are brutal, but we know they help us live longer lives with advanced breast cancer.
What are some side effects you experience while taking letrozole, and in what ways do you find relief from them?
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.