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Breast Cancer

The Fight Continues: Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of New Drug in Fighting Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and ranks second behind lung cancer as a leading cause of death from cancer in women. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, breast cancer accounts for about 32 percent of cancer and causes about 40,000 deaths, or 15 percent of all cancer deaths in women in the United States each year.

 

Breast Cancer Prevention

Great strides are being made in breast cancer prevention. A large national study, completed in April 2006, showed that the osteoporosis drug raloxifene can reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer. This is good news because now postmenopausal women have a choice of drugs to help decrease their breast cancer risk. Previously, tamoxifen was the only drug approved to prevent breast cancer from striking women at high-risk for this deadly disease.

About the STAR Trial

The Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (STAR) compared the effectiveness of two drugs in nearly 20,000 post-menopausal women at high risk for breast cancer. Researchers at the Ireland Cancer Center of University Hospitals of Cleveland participated in the 7-year STAR trial, enrolling 81 women as subjects.

Results of the Study

Sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the study showed that both drugs cut a woman's risk for developing breast cancer in half, but raloxifene was shown to cause fewer side effects. In fact, women who took raloxifene had more than a third fewer blood clots than those on tamoxifen.

Both drugs are chemically related and designed to mimic the beneficial effects of hormone replacement therapy while reducing potential side effects. Women who participated in the study were postmenopausal, at least 35 years old, and were determined to be at increased risk for breast cancer due to various factors including: age, family history, previous breast biopsies, age at first menstrual period, age at first childbirth.

What this Means to You

Raloxifene (brand name Evista) is not a silver bullet in breast cancer prevention. It can cause serious side effects, including heart attack and stroke, and would not be appropriate for many women at high risk for developing breast cancer. But this is still a promising development for those women who have had a close relative or other risk factors for breast cancer.

The future looks brighter for breast cancer prevention and treatment. Mortality rates from breast cancer have declined significantly over the past decade due to earlier detection and improved treatments. The incidence of breast cancer is also declining. Postmenopausal women who are at high risk for breast cancer can be proactive, and should talk with their doctors about whether they would benefit from one of these effective drugs.

This article was originally published in the June 2006 issue of Smart Health - Northeast Ohio's Health and Wellness Magazine Just For Women, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007

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Last Reviewed: May 20, 2009

Rosemary  Leeming, MD, FACS Rosemary Leeming, MD, FACS
Assistant Professor of Surgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University