A combination of two potent anti-cancer drugs appears to halt the progression of the most serious cases of breast cancer in elderly women, according to a government study.
Women over age 64 with advanced breast cancer who received the combination treatment lived about seven months longer than women receiving only one of the drugs, reported Dr. James N. Ingle of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The American Cancer Society projects 175,000 new cases of breast cancer in the United States this year and 44,800 deaths from the disease. One in nine women are expected to develop breast cancer.
Dr. Ingle and researchers in hospitals across the country studied 238 women between 35 and 89 whose breast cancer had spread throughout the body.
Their results are being published in the Friday issue of the American Cancer Society's journal Cancer.
The disease took five months longer to progress in women who received the combination therapy than those given only one drug, Dr. Ingle wrote.
The two drugs in the study were tamoxifen and fluoxymesterone.
In women under age 65, there was no difference in survival time when the combination treatment was compared with the single drug.
The researchers said the therapy may work in older women because the drug tamoxifen prevents estrogen from attaching to and feeding cancerous tumors. Previous studies have shown some women over age 60 get a type of breast cancer that thrives on estrogen.
Dr. Ingle said the new combination therapy, given in pill form twice a day, may be preferable to conventional therapy by injection.
For 10 years, tamoxifen has been given to breast cancer patients following surgery. Studies have shown it prevents recurrence of the disease 25 percent of the time.
The drug is being tested in 800 English women -- considered at high-risk for breast cancer because a close relative had it -- to prevent breast cancer.