Breast cancer

13 July 2010

New cancer drug gets endorsed

The American Society of Clinical Oncology issued new guidelines for the use of a breast cancer drug called aromatase inhibitors.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology issued new guidelines for the use of a breast cancer drug called aromatase inhibitors.

They said most breast cancer patients past menopause should consider taking an aromatase inhibitor at some point, either right after surgery or after two to three years of the drug tamoxifen.

"Women can take up to five years of an aromatase inhibitor therapy," ASCO said in a statement to be published in the group's Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Aromatase inhibitors include anastrozole, made by AstraZeneca under the brand name Arimidex, exemestane, made by Pfizer Inc., under the brand name Aromasin and Novartis's Femara or letrozole.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, after lung cancer. It kills 500,000 people globally every year and is diagnosed in close to 1.3 million people globally.

Affects of the drugs

About 75 percent of these cancers are oestrogen-receptor positive, meaning they are driven by hormones. Tamoxifen was the first drug to block the effects of oestrogen and the aromatase inhibitors are the next generation.

Studies have shown that women who took tamoxifen for 5 years were 50 percent less likely to have their cancer return, and the aromatase inhibitors have similar effects. But if a breast cancer patient has not gone through menopause, tamoxifen is the only safe hormone-based drug to take.

"One of the most important treatments for women with postmenopausal breast cancer is anti-oestrogen therapy," ASCO's Dr. Harold Burstein, an oncologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement.

"Our panel carefully reviewed the explosion of research that has emerged in the past five years on anti-oestrogen drugs, and filled in gaps in our understanding of how best to use these newer treatments, and what the trade-offs and side effects of therapy would be."

Some studies suggest it is safe to take tamoxifen and an aromatase inhibitor usually a pill taken daily for as long as 10 years in total, the panel said.

"While the two drug classes work differently, overall, most women have relatively mild side effects on either drug," ASCO added. (Reuters Health)

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2010.

Read more:

Raloxifene, Tamoxifen both guard against breast cancer


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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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