Drug helps bar spread of breast cancer

Data released on study comparing with tamoxifen

March 11, 2004|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

A drug that has shown promise against advanced breast cancer might work well in women diagnosed with early disease, offering a new treatment option and a stronger way to thwart cancer recurrences, scientists report today.

In the international project, a drug called exemestane (sold as Aromasin) worked better than tamoxifen, one of medicine's mainstays, in preventing new tumor development.

Aromasin reduced by one-third the likelihood that cancer would rebound in postmenopausal women who had already taken tamoxifen for two to three years.

Tamoxifen and its generics are the most widely prescribed breast cancer drugs in the world.

The head-to-head analysis of tamoxifen and Aromasin, financed by Pfizer, Aromasin's maker, is reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Sharon Pifko-Hirst, 62, a researcher at New York University in Manhattan who is taking a tamoxifen-like drug, said she is ready to try Aromasin, based on the new study. "I will be switching because, as most women who have had breast cancer can attest, the fear never goes away," Pifko-Hirst said. "I hope doctors jump on this."

Even though the study is still continuing, and its findings still considered preliminary, researchers decided to release the data early because of the compelling results. Among the discoveries: A tamoxifen-Aromasin combo cut patients' chances of developing cancer in the other breast by 56 percent and reduced the risk of other forms of cancer by 50 percent.

Researchers say the information could help doctors and their patients make the switch.

Dr. R. Charles Coombes, the project's chief investigator, said the findings pave the way for a new standard of care.

"For many years we have been looking for drugs that work after tamoxifen," said Coombes, professor of cancer medicine at Imperial College School of Medicine in London.

Even as Coombes commended tamoxifen, he underscored that it can cause uterine cancer in a small percentage of patients and carries a threat of blood clots that can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Tissues also can develop a resistance to tamoxifen, rendering it ineffective.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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