Anderson is not alone. In the 25-plus years since tamoxifen became a mainstay of breast cancer therapy, the pill has saved thousands of lives. But now, newer hormonal agents known as aromatase inhibitors are contesting the superiority of tamoxifen and competing for attention.
Elyse Caplan remembers it well, that first conversation with her oncologist. She had just been diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, and they were discussing the game plan for treatment. If her oncologist mentioned "recurrence" -- the possibility that her cancer could return -- it was lost on her, she says.
"You sit through an hour-long appointment and take notes, but when the doctor says one thing that's very upsetting, you just freeze," she tells WebMD. "You're thinking, 'I'm going to lose my...
One of the biggest concerns with tamoxifen is that it stops working after five years, doctors say. Yet one-third of cancers that recur come back between five and 10 years later.
Anderson says that after her five years of tamoxifen therapy ended she always feared a recurrence, feeling that her safety net had gone away.
Until now. A study published in 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that taking the aromatase inhibitor Aromasin after two to three years of tamoxifen reduced breast cancer recurrence by 32%.
And in 2003, another study in the same journal showed that women could cut their risk of recurrence by nearly half by taking the aromatase inhibitor Femara after they completed about five years on tamoxifen.
And another recent study showed that postmenopausal women who switch to another aromatase inhibitor, Arimidex, after two or three years of tamoxifen therapy had fewer recurrences of cancer than those who continued to take tamoxifen for the full recommended five years.
Aromasin Helps Prevent Cancer Recurrence
The Aromasin study, performed by R. Charles Coombes, MD, PhD, showed that when postmenopausal women took Aromasin for two to three years following two to three years of treatment with tamoxifen, the risk of breast cancer recurrence dropped by 32% compared with women who continued to take tamoxifen.
It's a revolutionary finding, says Paul E. Goss, MD, PhD, director of breast cancer prevention at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Goss was lead researcher on the Femara study that showed it cut breastcancer recurrence nearly in half after five years of tamoxifen.