Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bone Drugs Can Prevent Breast Cancer: Study

Two osteoporosis drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer for high risk women, according to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research and presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research 2010 annual meeting. This federally funded study followed 20,000 women for seven years.

The study found that tamoxifen reduces breast cancer risk for high risk women by almost 50%, but presents several side effects, including doubling the risk of endometrial cancer (from 0.1% to 0.2%), and increasing hot flashes. Raloxifene, on the other hand, appears to function without significant side effects, but is not quite as effective as tamoxifen in breast cancer risk reduction, lowering overall breast cancer risk by 38% for high risk women.

"We have two very effective agents for breast cancer prevention," says study co-author Patricia Ganz. "The impact of these drugs is huge," says Gabriel Hortobagyi of Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.  "The only thing that reduces the risk as much is a bilateral mastectomy."

Hortobagyi, along with other experts, believes that not enough women use tamoxifen or raloxifene as means to prevent breast cancer. According to co-author study Patricia Ganz, the average woman has a 12% lifetime risk of breast cancer, which rises to 18% for a woman whose mother or sister has had the disease, and 30% for a woman with atypical hyperplasia.  These are short odds for all women. The results of this study are unusually strong, and warrant a discussion with your doctor if you are a woman approaching or of menopausal age.

Are you considered high risk? The study assumed that you were at high risk if your risk of getting breast cancer in the next 5 years (using the commonly used "Gail model") is above 1.67% - you can use this assessment tool to find out what your risk is in less than 90 seconds.

Want to read more about this? Try APUSA TodayBusiness Week, Wall Street Journal, or Pittsburgh Tribune. This WebMD story clearly presents the pros and cons of both drugs, and the risk analysis to figure out if you are high risk. Even if you are not, it is worth talking to your doctor.

Breast Cancer Assessment Tool

Update (7/2010): added risk calculation

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