Clinical Trial Shows Decrease in Sore Muscles and Joint Pain, Receives Merit Award

A clinical trial conducted at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center (ECCC) and the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine has returned positive results in reducing the side effects of aromatase inhibitors in patients with breast cancer.

Aromatase inhibitors are a standard treatment for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. These treatments can help prevent a return of the disease by blocking the effects of estrogen. A common side effect of the treatment is joint and muscle pain which at times can be debilitating and cause patients not to complete their treatments.

“I learned through a friend of mine that she drinks about an ounce of tart cherry juice after a workout to help with sore muscles and joint pain,” said Maria Tria Tirona, MD, fellowship program director, section chief and professor, hematology-oncology in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and director of Medical Oncology at the ECCC. “I decided to try it on myself and after about a week or two I noticed I wasn’t achy after a workout like I had been. It made me think of my patients and if the juice would help them too.”

Tirona began suggesting that her patients drink an ounce of tart cherry juice a day. She learned from their feedback that more than half reported positive outcomes. Tirona decided to initiate a clinical trial to further study the juice’s effects. 

“We were able to secure a grant from the Cherry Marketing Institute and enrolled 60 patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial,” she said.

The trial lasted from May 2016 to August 2018. Patients consumed an ounce of tart cherry juice mixed in eight ounces of water or eight ounces of a placebo and documented their pain intensity. Patients who completed the trial taking the tart cherry juice recorded a 34.7% mean decrease in pain compared to 1.4% in the placebo group.

The Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) awarded Mina Shenouda, MD, hematology-oncology fellow, with a Merit Award during the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting for the clinical trial, Effect of Tart Cherry on Aromatase Inhibitor Induced Arthralgia in Non-Metastatic Hormone Positive Breast Cancer Patients.

This distinguished award supports oncology trainees who are first authors on abstracts selected for presentation.

“Dr. Shenouda was a second year medical resident when we began this trial,” said Tirona. “He was directly involved in the design of the clinical trial under my direction as the principal investigator as well as research mentor. We are thrilled to receive this award, but are even more pleased with the outcome of the trial.”

After sharing their results with ASCO, they were invited to present their findings to a nationwide group of peers.

“An entire team of medical oncologists, nurses, physician assistants and clinical trial personnel at the ECCC contributed to the success of this clinical trial. We are honored to be recognized by such a prestigious group for our results.” said Tirona. “I am also very grateful to all the patients who participated.”

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