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New Ways to Treat Breast Cancer

A new generation of drugs and treatment options gives patients new hope in the fight against breast cancer.

Hormone-Positive Cancers continued...

"In premenopausal women ovaries are the prime producers of estrogen, and they are not affected by aromatase inhibitors," says Smith.

In a number of clinical breast cancer trials, newer aromatase inhibitors (such as Femara, Aromasin, and Arimidex) have been compared with tamoxifen and found to be more effective, show greater survival rates, and in many cases have more tolerable side effects overall.

A 2006 analysis of 23 studies showed women with advanced breast cancer lived longer if they took aromatase inhibitors instead of tamoxifen. Researchers found women with advanced breast cancer who had an expected survival rate of 2.5 years lived an additional four months when treated with newer aromatase inhibitors. The analysis was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology now recommends the use of aromatase inhibitors for the treatment of hormone-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Targeting the Future

If doctors are right, the future of breast cancer treatment may involve drugs that don't target tumor cells at all, but instead work to disrupt the support system that helps them grow.

In a process known as angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels), cancer cells utilize growth factors made naturally in the body to develop a blood supply that enables them to thrive. New drugs known as "antiangiogenisis" treatments interfere with that process and, says Smith, "Cut off tumor growth in its embryonic stage."

So far, at least one drug -- Avastin -- is accomplishing this in some lung and colon cancers. Hudis says clinical trials have also yielded impressive results in breast cancer, although the drug is not yet approved for breast cancer treatment.

"What's really exciting about this method is that it is generic enough in its approach to work for all types of cancer," says Hudis.

Extreme Cures

In addition to target-specific drugs, new ways to use standard breast cancer treatments have resulted in still more treatment advances. Two of the newest hit extremes that cover both ends of the healing spectrum.

In line with the minimalist approach to breast conservation -- treatment that includes lumpectomy over mastectomy -- comes a minimal form of radiation therapy. One such technique is known as MammoSite.

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