Endothelial dysfunction in breast cancer survivors on aromatase inhibitors: changes over time

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Background: Breast cancer is estimated to comprise about 290,560 new cases in 2022. Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are recommended as adjuvant treatment for estrogen-receptor positive (ER+) breast carcinoma in postmenopausal women, which includes approximately two-thirds of all women with breast cancer. AIs inhibit the peripheral conversion of androgens to estrogen by deactivation of the aromatase enzyme, leading to a reduction in serum estrogen level in postmenopausal women with ER+ breast carcinoma. Estrogen is known for its cardiovascular (CV) protective properties through a variety of mechanisms including vasodilation of blood vessels and inhibition of vascular injury resulting in the prevention of atherosclerosis. In clinical trials and prospective cohorts, the long-term use of AIs can increase the risk for hypertension and hyperlipidemia. Studies demonstrate mixed results as to the impact of AIs on actual CV events and overall survival. Methods: A single arm longitudinal study of 14 postmenopausal women with ER+ breast cancer prescribed adjuvant AIs at the University of Minnesota (UMN). Subjects with a history of known tobacco use, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes were excluded to eliminate potential confounding factors. Participants underwent routine labs, blood pressure assessments, and vascular testing at baseline (prior to starting AIs) and at six months. Vascular assessment was performed using the EndoPAT 2000 and HDI/PulseWave CR-2000 Cardiovascular Profiling System and pulse contour analysis on two occasions as previously described. Vascular measurements were conducted by one trained vascular technician. Assessments were performed in triplicate, and the mean indices were used for analyses. All subjects were on an AI at the follow-up visit. The protocol was approved by the UMN Institutional Review Board and all participants were provided written informed consent. Baseline and follow-up characteristics were compared using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. Analyses were performed using R version 3.6.1 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria). Results: After six months of AI treatment, EndoPAT® ratio declined to a median 1.12 (Q1: 0.85, Q3: 1.86; p = 0.045; Figure 1) and median estradiol levels decreased to 2 pg/mL (Q1: 2, Q3: 3; p=0.052). There was no evidence of association between change in EndoPAT® and change in estradiol level (p = 0.91). There were no statistically significant changes in small or large arterial elasticity. Conclusions: We hypothesize that long-term use of AI can lead to persistent endothelial dysfunction, and further investigation is necessary. In our study, patients were on AI for approximately 5-10 years. As a result, we do not have data on whether these changes, such as EndoPAT® ratio and the elasticity of small and large arterial, are reversible with discontinuation of AI. These findings set the stage for a larger study to more conclusively determine the association between AI exposure and cardiovascular outcomes. Further studies should evaluate for multivariate associations withmodifiable risk factors for CV disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

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  • Aromatase inhibitors
  • Breast cancer
  • Cardiotoxicity
  • Endothelial function


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