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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Tamoxifen Decreases Heart Disease

Five Years of Breast Cancer Drug Best for Added Benefit

Five Years of Tamoxifen Optimal continued...

Women who took the drug for five years were slightly more likely to die of endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus) than those who took it for the shorter time period, but the numbers were so small they could have been due to chance, Nordenskjold notes.

While the study was not designed to look at how tamoxifen protects against heart disease, Nordenskjold attributes its heart-healthy effect to the fact that the drug, in part, mimics the effects of estrogen.

"Tamoxifen is a weak estrogen compared with natural estrogen, but it is an estrogen," he tells WebMD. "And estrogen protects against heart disease."

Heart disease risk increases dramatically in women after menopause because of the loss of estrogen.

A Bonus for the Heart -- and Bones

Jose Baselga, MD, chairman of the scientific committee that chose which studies would be presented at the cancer meeting, says the research provides further evidence that tamoxifen has benefits beyond breast cancer protection.

"It's been speculated for years that tamoxifen has potentially good effects on the heart and that is shown very nicely in this study," he tells WebMD. Additionally, tamoxifen has been shown to protect against the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, he notes.

Baselga, who is also chairman of oncology at the Vall D'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, says he would not prescribe tamoxifen solely for its heart-healthy benefits. "But it's nice to see women on the drug get this bonus," he says.

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