Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Femara May Be Better Than Tamoxifen

Side Effects of Breast Cancer Drugs May Determine Choice
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 28, 2005 - It's official: Femara beats tamoxifen in preventing breast-cancer recurrence.

A large 27-nation clinical trial shows that postmenopausal women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer are less likely to get new breast cancers -- especially cancers in distant parts of the body -- if they take Femara than if they take tamoxifen.

"Particularly notable was our finding of a significant [27%] reduction in the risk of distant recurrence with Femara as compared with tamoxifen," write Beat Thürlimann, MD, and colleagues. Thürlimann, a senior lecturer at the University of Basel, Switzerland, owns stock in Novartis, which makes Femara. Novartis is a WebMD sponsor.

We've heard the news before: first from Novartis, which makes the drug, and then at a meeting of cancer specialists. Now the report on the Breast International Group (BIG) 1-98 study appears in the Dec. 29 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

It's not that tamoxifen didn't work. Cancer-free, five-year survival was estimated at 84% for women taking tamoxifen -- only 2.6% lower than for Femara. Yet Femara had a distinct benefit, with a 27% lower risk of metastatic (distant-spreading) cancer.

Tamoxifen Still Has Large Role

Femara is the most potent member of a new class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. These drugs almost totally shut down the body's ability to make estrogen. Estrogen-receptor-positive tumors grow in the presence of estrogen. Tamoxifen also blocks estrogen's effects, but not in the same way as Femara and its sister drugs Arimidex and Aromasin.

Other large clinical trials show that Femara and other aromatase inhibitors fight breast cancer better than tamoxifen, notes an NEJM editorial by Sandra M. Swain, MD, of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"It is clear ... that these trials, with close to 30,000 participants, consistently demonstrate that treatment with an aromatase inhibitor alone or after tamoxifen treatment is beneficial," Swain writes.

Choosing a Treatment Plan

Swain says many questions remain:

  • How long should treatment last?
  • Should patients take tamoxifen before an aromatase inhibitor, or after?
  • Which is best: Femara, Arimidex, or Aromasin?
  • Is taking one drug and then another beneficial?
  • Do women whose ovaries have been removed benefit from aromatase inhibitors?

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow