In the U.K., the workhorse drug Tamoxifen may now be given as a preventative for breast cancer. Patients who qualify for this must have a high to moderately high risk - a strong family history of this cancer - to be prescribed the estrogen-blocking drug. Tamoxifen may be given to young, premenopausal women who have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who are at risk because of genetic factors.
National Institutes for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have given their stamp of approval to the Tamoxifen for prevention regimen after clinical trials showed it to be effective. A patient at high risk would take the drug daily for 5 years - just as cancer patients do to prevent recurrence - to lower their risk of developing the disease by about 50% - 70%. The effects of the 5-year course of this anti-estrogen drug may last as long as 20 years. This could prove to be a great option to prophylactic double mastectomy, another option offered to breast cancer previvors.
Tamoxifen does come with some risks, side effects, and should come with a couple of caveats: this drug does not work for everybody, and it won't prevent estrogen-negative breast cancer. If you have a close relative that has been treated for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk factors and learn how to reduce your risk. Find out the details of family members' diagnoses, and bring that along to your consultation. Be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of taking this drug, as it affects your fertility and will give many women menopausal symptoms. Breast cancer patients who must take this drug don't always finish the full five years of their prescription for Tamoxifen, due to the side effects. Make a wise and well-informed decision based on your risks, lifestyle factors, and hereditary influences.
Photo: Karl D. Stephan