The widely prescribed drug tamoxifen already plays a major role in reducing the risk of death from breast cancer. But a new study suggests that patients who continued taking tamoxifen for 10 years were less likely to have the cancer come back or to die from the disease than women who took the drug for only five years, the current standard of care.
"Certainly, the advice to stop in five years should not stand," said Prof. Richard Peto, a medical statistician at Oxford University and senior author of the study, which was published in The Lancet on Wednesday and presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Breast cancer specialists not involved in the study said the results could have the biggest impact on premenopausal women, who account for a fifth to a quarter of new breast cancer cases.
"We've been waiting for this result," said Dr. Robert W. Carlson, a professor of medicine at Stanford University. "I think it is especially practice-changing in premenopausal women because the results do favor a 10-year regimen." Dr. Eric P. Winer, chief of women's cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said that even women who completed their five years of tamoxifen months or years ago might consider starting on the drug again.
In the study group assigned to take tamoxifen for 10 years, 21.4 percent had a recurrence of breast cancer in the ensuing nine years, meaning the period 5 to 14 years after their diagnoses. The recurrence rate for those who took only five years of tamoxifen was 25.1 percent. About 12.2 percent of those in the 10-year treatment group died from breast cancer, compared with 15 percent for those in the control group. (NY Times)
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