New research suggests drugs might help women at risk of breast cancer

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL Two drugs -- one already approved by the Food and Drug Administration and one pending approval -- appear to reduce women's chances of developing breast cancer, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and RTI International study concludes. Women who think they might be at risk of the life-threatening illness should discuss with their physicians if they should begin taking the drugs routinely, scientists say.

The research, conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, involved reviewing all relevant studies found on the subject. Results appear in the July 2 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical journal, and coincide with release of a task force recommendation that women talk to their doctors about the issue.

"We looked for randomized, controlled trials of chemical prevention of breast cancer and found four in women without a previous diagnosis of that illness," said study leader Dr. Linda Kinsinger, assistant professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. "Three of the four involved tamoxifen and one involved raloxifene, which the FDA has not approved yet. We also reviewed studies of the costs of drug treatment to prevent breast cancer and others assessing the risks of that treatment."

Conducted in the United States, the largest of the tamoxifen studies showed almost a 50 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer among women with a higher than average chance of developing it within five years, Kinsinger said. It involved more than 13,000 women. The two other, smaller tamoxifen studies were conducted in Europe and did not reveal a statistically significant benefit.

"Only a few women in each of those trials took tamoxifen during the entire study period, and so that might be the reason there was no observed benefit," she said. "Other possible reasons were that the studies were small and shorter-term."

The raloxifene study, which focused on postmenopausal women with os

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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