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PUBLIC HEALTH & EDUCATION | New Class of Breast Cancer Drugs Can Help Cut Recurrence Risk, Studies Say

PUBLIC HEALTH & EDUCATION | New Class of Breast Cancer Drugs Can Help Cut Recurrence Risk, Studies Say
[March 12, 2008]

New research reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has bolstered evidence that several breast cancer drugs can prevent recurrence among women whose tumors are fueled by estrogen, the Chicago Tribune reports (Swanson, Chicago Tribune, 3/11).

According to the Washington Post, women with estrogen-fueled tumors typically have undergone a regimen of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and the drug tamoxifen to reduce chances of recurrence. However, tamoxifen might become dangerous if taken for more than five years. Researchers five years ago stopped a large international study early because it was shown that a drug in a new class called aromatase inhibitors, if taken by women after tamoxifen, reduced recurrence risk by about half, but "many questions remained," including if the drugs would work for women diagnosed years ago, the Post reports.

For one of the reports published Monday, Paul Goss of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues looked at records of more than 1,500 women who had early-stage breast cancer and were taking a placebo in addition to tamoxifen at the time the study was stopped. The women began taking Novartis' aromatase inhibitor Femara between one and seven years after the study was halted. After comparing the data with records of 800 women who did not take Femara, Goss and colleagues found Femara reduced recurrence risk by 63%, the risk of cancer spreading by 61% and the risk of a new tumor in the other breast by 80%.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology on Monday also published two other studies providing evidence that aromatase inhibitors reduce breast cancer recurrence. Hyman Muss of the University of Vermont conducted a study that found that Femara was effective in reducing the breast cancer recurrence risk for women of all ages, including those older than age 70. Researchers in the third study found that exemestane, sold under the brand name Aromasin, was equally effective at reducing the cancer recurrence risk among 1,598 participants.

Nancy Lin and Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute wrote in an editorial accompanying the new studies that the data collectively indicates a need for a "paradigm shift" in treating breast cancer survivors (Stein, Washington Post, 3/11). "What our results have shown for the first time in breast cancer treatment history is that taking an antiestrogen [drug] anywhere along that line appears to have a dramatic reduction in the risk of recurrence," Goss said (Steenhuysen, Reuters, 3/11).

NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on Goss' study. The segment includes comments from Goss and Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who is also chief scientific adviser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Knox, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/11).