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.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called "Me & the Girls," explores the personal stories of nine women who faced breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Mary Manasco, 59, lives in Jackson, Miss. In May 2008, a routine mammogram showed a suspicious spot in Manasco's right breast, which led to another mammogram, a biopsy, and a diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer.
The diagnosis upset...
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.