Photo © Karl Stephan
Aromasin (exemestane) may prevent new cases of breast cancer as well as recurrence in post-menopausal women. You'll also be glad to know that exemestane may soon be available in generic form, as the patent expired on April 1. That would make for a lower-cost drug that lowers the number of newly-diagnosed breast cancers.
This news is the result of a study done by NCIC Clinical Trials Group at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. The study's results were presented at this year's the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study, which ran for 5 years and included more than 4,500 women living in North America, Spain, and France. Women in this study were already menopausal and were identified as being at high risk for breast cancer.
This is not the first time that a hormonal therapy has been considered as chemoprevention for breast cancer. Tamoxifen has been prescribed widely for many pre-and post-menopausal women after treatment for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. It prevents the return of breast cancer by blocking estrogen receptors, but it doesn't stop estrogen production. The downside to Tamoxifen, and the reason that many patients don't take it for the full five years that is the standard regimen, it the side effects. Tamoxifen causes menopause-like hot flashes, night sweats and raises your risk for endometrial cancers, cataracts, and stroke.
Aromasin has milder side effects than Tamoxifen and works differently. Tamoxifen blocks estrogen and Aromasin prevents estrogen production. Aromasin is an aromatase inhibitor which is frequently given to post-menopausal breast cancer patients who have completed treatment for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. Neither drug would benefit patients who have estrogen receptor negative breast tumors, such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC).
Don't rush out and ask your doctor to prescribe exemestane as breast cancer prevention just yet. More studies will need to be done on it's benefits and risks, as well as its effectiveness in preventing the development of breast tumors in high-risk women. But if the research holds up, this drug may prevent many preemptive mastectomies in young and old women who've had genetic testing and found themselves to have a strong family history as well as a genetic predisposition for breast cancer. For those women who don't mind an early case of hot flashes in order to avoid a breast tumor, the side effects of exemestane don't seem too bad.
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