Breast Cancer Drug Fights Lung Cancer, Too
Tamoxifen Reduces Risk of Dying From Lung Cancer
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 11, 2009 (San Antonio) -- The anti-hormone drug tamoxifen,
which is used to treat breast cancer, may also reduce the risk of dying
from lung cancer, a study of more than 6,000 women suggests.
"We found women who were treated with tamoxifen for breast cancer were less
likely to die from lung cancer than women in the general population," says
Elisabetta Rapiti, MD, MPH, a medical researcher at the University of Geneva in
In contrast, breast cancer patients who were not treated with anti-hormone
drugs had the same risk of lung cancer death as other women, she tells
Tamoxifen, which blocks the activity of estrogen, thereby slowing tumor
growth, has been used for decades to treat breast cancer.
In recent years, its use has been largely supplanted by aromatase
inhibitors, which actually shut down the body's ability to make estrogen.
Although the new study involved too few women treated with aromatase inhibitors
to draw any firm conclusions, Rapiti says she believes these drugs would also
help combat lung cancer.
"We believe it's an anti-estrogen effect," she says. "But much more study is
The findings were presented at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer
Hormone Drugs Raise Risk of Dying From Lung Cancer
The new research builds on findings, presented earlier this year at a major
cancer meeting, showing that the hormone replacement therapy taken by millions
of women to relieve hot flashes and
of menopause may raise the risk of dying from lung cancer.
"We theorized that if estrogen increases lung cancer mortality,
anti-estrogens should have the opposite effect," Rapiti says.
The study involved 6,715 women living in the Geneva region of Switzerland
who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1980 and 2003. Forty-six percent
of the women were on anti-estrogen therapy, primarily tamoxifen.
By the end of 2007, 40 of the women had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
The risk of developing lung cancer in breast cancer patients treated with
anti-estrogen drugs and breast cancer patients not treated with the drugs was
the same as women in the general population.
However, the risk of dying from lung cancer was more than sevenfold higher
among women who received anti-estrogen therapy than among women in the
"Fifteen of the women on anti-estrogen drugs died of lung cancer, while only
two deaths from lung cancer would be expected in a similar number of women of
the same ages in the general population," Rapiti says.
P. Kelly Marcom, MD, an expert in cancer genetics at Duke University, tells
WebMD that estrogen is present in tissue throughout the body, creating a
hormonal environment that is conducive to the growth and spread of cancer
"There's more estrogen in breast cells, which is why we use the
anti-estrogen drugs to treat breast cancer, but lung tissue has estrogen, too.
So one would expect the anti-estrogen drugs to impact lung cancer, just in a
more subtle way," he says.
Rapiti says that studies looking at whether adding anti-hormone drugs to
traditional chemotherapy can improve the prognosis of lung cancer patients are