Women have new options in breast cancer treatments

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    By Amber Dutton

    The results of an $88 million study comparing two breast cancer prevention drugs proved the new drug to be equally effective to the traditional medication.

    The study, which was one of the largest clinical trials of breast cancer prevention ever conducted, was funded by the National Cancer Institute and compared tamoxifen, a 30-year-old treatment used to prevent breast cancer, to raloxifene, a newer drug, currently only approved for osteoporosis prevention.

    While the researchers asserted raloxifene to be the safer choice due to fewer and milder side effects, the results indicated both drugs lowered the risk of serious breast cancer developments.

    “In 1998, the landmark Breast Cancer Prevention Trial showed that tamoxifen could reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer in pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women by nearly 50 percent,” said Dr. Norman Wolmark, chairman of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, in a news release. “Today we can tell you that for postmenopausal women at increased risk of breast cancer, raloxifene is just as effective, without some of the serious side effects known to occur with tamoxifen.”

    The Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene enrolled 19,747 postmenopausal women at least 35 years old with an increased risk of breast cancer to participate in the study. Each individual was then randomly assigned to take one of the drugs daily for five years, said Dr. Worta McCaskall-Stevens of the National Cancer Institute.

    Women were determined to have an increased risk by a number of factors, including age and family history of breast cancer.

    According to researchers, the study has paved the way for improved health care for at-risk women.

    “Although no drugs are without side effects, tamoxifen and raloxifene are vital options for women who are at increased risk of breast cancer and want to take action,” said Dr. Leslie Ford, associate director for clinical research in NCI”s Division of Cancer Prevention, in a new release. “For many women, raloxifene”s benefits will outweigh its risks in a way that tamoxifen”s benefits do not.”

    Here on campus, research labs study various aspects of cancer at the BYU Cancer Center. Though breast cancer in particular is not an emphasis at BYU, John D. Bell, a member of the BYU Cancer Center and associate dean of the Department of Biology and Agriculture, said parts of their research relate to all forms of cancer.

    “In the case of breast cancer, not everyone has the same situation. Different mutations would cause cancer in different people,” he said. “So a lot of different drugs are used. Some of the breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen levels so those are ones that may respond to tamoxifen and raloxifene, but other breast tumors may not respond to those types of drugs, so other drugs are needed. That is why cancer is so hard to treat.”

    Bell said this is why research has played such a crucial role in saving lives.

    “Since cancer is such a complex family of diseases, we need to know more about it so we can figure out different strategies to control the different kinds,” he said.

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