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Friday, July 29, 2011

Tamoxifen Gives 15-Year Breast Cancer Protection

Patricia Kearns from Banbridge was diagnosed with breast cancer after being screened in 2009.

"In October 2008 my sister put both our names down in Gordon's Chemists as it was breast cancer awareness month," she said.

Three months later she got a call from Action Cancer to arrange an appointment.

She went to Action Cancer in February and had a mammogram.

Within a week she was recalled: "I had no lumps or history."

"I attended the City Hospital in Belfast where I had five little white pin dots, which they had picked up, removed," she said.

"I was told I could have cancer in any part of my body within a year, five years or 10 years down the line.

"In May I went and had a mastectomy and reconstruction where I had six lymph nodes removed and three of those had cancer cells."

Five years of tamoxifen can prevent a high proportion of recurrences and potentially cure many patients, rather than simply delay an inevitable event," Chia and Wolff note.

Tamoxifen works only on the most common form of breast cancer: the form that needs the female hormone estrogen in order to grow. These cancers carry proteins, called receptors, that bind estrogen. Tamoxifen makes it impossible for these receptors to bind estrogen.

Importantly, the EBCTCG study shows that tamoxifen works even on breast cancers that carry only small numbers of estrogen receptors.

"Therefore, another crucial message from this [study] is the need for accurate and sensitive [tests] ... to detect even low concentrations of estrogen receptor and thus further identify potential candidates for ... tamoxifen treatment," Chia and Wolff suggest.

Newer drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, also block estrogen. But these drugs don't work in premenopausal women. Moreover, it's still not known how long their benefits last.

"Access to accurate estrogen-receptor testing, and to tamoxifen (a relatively inexpensive drug) or other endocrine therapies is a public health imperative for all women with breast cancer," Chia and Wolff conclude.

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