Femara Prevents Breast Cancer Recurrence
Drug Picks Up Where Tamoxifen Leaves Off in Reducing Cancer Risks
How Femara Works continued...
Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, a breast cancer specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says ongoing studies may eventually show that other aromatase inhibitors provide similar breast cancer benefits as Femara because the entire class of drugs works in the same way to deplete estrogen levels.
"But in talking to patients right now, this is the drug to be talking about because it is the only one for which we have data," Burstein tells WebMD. "I would not encourage people to think of other drugs instead of this one."
Experts say that although these findings are remarkable, there are still many questions about Femara that remain unanswered.
For example, because the study was stopped short, researchers know little about the long-term risks of Femara use or the optimal duration of use.
Another issue is whether the thousands of breast cancer survivors who have been off tamoxifen for more than three months would experience the same benefits from starting therapy with Femara.
"We have no reason to believe they might not also benefit from [Femara], but clearly further study is needed to know how long is too long to consider [Femara]," says researcher James Ingle, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who also spoke at the conference.
Ingle says the actual reduction in breast cancer recurrence risk offered by Femara will vary greatly, depending on each woman's risk factors, such as the size and aggressiveness of the primary tumor.
"Patients should sit down with their doctors to talk about their specific situation," says Ingle.
Cost is also another factor to be considered, as Femara costs about $6 per pill and coverage for treatment may vary according to insurance providers.
Experts say it's also too soon to say whether women should make an early switch from tamoxifen therapy to Femara before completing five years of treatment.
"For women generally doing well on tamoxifen, I think this study says to stay the course for five years and then think about switching," says Burstein, who also wrote an editorial that accompanies the study.