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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Tamoxifen Fights Benign Breast Disease

Drug Lowers Risk of Noncancerous Growths, Reduces Biopsies

WebMD Health News

Feb. 19, 2003 -- A drug used to help reduce the risk of breast cancer in healthy women at high risk for the disease may also reduce the risk of noncancerous growths and lessen the need for biopsies. A new study shows that treatment with tamoxifen reduced the risk of benign breast disease by 28% in these women.

Researchers say some noncancerous breast disease, such as abnormal growths, can slightly increase a woman's risk of developing invasive breast cancer. These abnormal growths or lesions are also a frequent cause of biopsies, a procedure in which a tissue sample is taken from the breast to determine the cause of the abnormality.

Using data from the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial, researchers looked at whether treatment with tamoxifen not only reduced the risk of breast cancer, but also the development of benign disease in women at high risk for breast cancer.

The study involved more than 13,000 women who were thought to be at high risk for breast cancer because they were over 60 years old or were younger and had other risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer. Initial results of the trial published in 1998 found tamoxifen reduced the risk of breast cancer by as much as 50% compared with a placebo.

In this study, researcher Elizabeth Tan-Chiu, MD, of the Cancer Research Network in Plantation, Fla., and colleagues found that tamoxifen reduced the overall risk of noncancerous breast disease by about one-fourth.

Also, there were fewer total biopsies in the group who took tamoxifen, and fewer total women who underwent biopsies.

The results appear in the Feb. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers say women under 50 seemed to reap the largest reduction in disease or biopsy risk. In fact, the study found that tamoxifen reduced the likelihood of breast biopsy predominantly among premenopausal women.

Although researchers say these results are promising, they "do not advocate the indiscriminate use of tamoxifen for the treatment of benign breast disease."

Researchers say treatment with tamoxifen carries significant risks, such as an increased risk of blood clots and endometrial cancer among postmenopausal women who take the drug.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Feb. 19, 2003.

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