Sexual Health Q&A

What are aromatase inhibitors? Do they cause sexual problems for women?

Do aromatase inhibitors cause sexual problems for women?Aromatase inhibitors are drugs that are sometimes used to treat breast cancer in postmenopausal women. They might also be used to keep breast cancer from recurring after surgery.

These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called aromatase. This enzyme typically converts other hormones into estrogen, which can spur the growth of breast cancer cells. By preventing this conversion, estrogen levels are reduced and cancer cells have less “fuel” to work with.

Unfortunately, sexual side effects are common in women who take aromatase inhibitors. Women may experience vaginal dryness, loss of libido, and sexual pain. Aromatase inhibitors can also cause joint pain, which can make sex uncomfortable. Some women stop taking their medicine because of these side effects. Some stop having sex with their partners.

Women who have sexual problems from aromatase inhibitors should talk to their healthcare team. Sometimes changing to a different medication helps. A moisturizer or lubricant may help women with vaginal dryness. Counseling or sex therapy could also help, especially if women feel distressed about sexual difficulties and changes in their relationships. A sex therapist may be able to suggest specific strategies to help couples cope.