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Aromatase Inhibitors May Raise Heart Risks

Newer Breast Cancer Drugs May Carry Higher Risk of Heart Problems Than Tamoxifen: Study

Aromatase Inhibitors vs. Tamoxifen: What Should Women Do? continued...

"The bottom line is that aromatase inhibitors keep postmenopausal women alive and free of disease compared to tamoxifen," says Aman Buzdar, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

In the ATAC study, women were given either the aromatase inhibitor Arimidex, tamoxifen, or both. "They have now been followed for 10 years and the groups have the same risk of cardiovascular disease," Buzdar tells WebMD.

But other studies have shown a small increased risk of heart problems in women taking aromatase inhibitors, Amir says. Other aromatase inhibitors are Aromasin and Femara.

And in December 2008, the FDA added a warning label to Arimidex cautioning of the increased risk for heart disease, he says.

Aromatase Inhibitors vs. Tamoxifen: Other Findings

Among other findings of the new study:

Women who took aromatase inhibitors were 47% more likely to suffer a fracture than those on tamoxifen, regardless of how long they took the medicine.

Women on tamoxifen were more likely to develop endometrial cancer and dangerous blood clots in the legs.

There was a suggestion that women who switched to aromatase inhibitors after starting on tamoxifen were less likely to die from something other than breast cancer compared with those who started treatment with the newer medications.

The risk of serious side effects was similar when aromatase inhibitors were used as an initial treatment compared with switching to aromatase inhibitors after treatment with tamoxifen.

The much higher cost of the aromatase inhibitors has been an issue for some women. But that is starting to change as generic version of the drugs become available, Buzdar says.

A woman should discuss all the pros and cons of each treatment with their doctor, Amir says.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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