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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Survival: Femara Better Than Tamoxifen

Study Shows Breast Cancer Less Likely to Return in Patients Who Take Femara

Treating Breast Cancer

Neither tamoxifen followed by Femara nor Femara followed by tamoxifen were more effective treatments than Femara alone.

The updated analysis appears in the Oct. 21 issue of The Lancet.

"The hope was that sequential treatment with one drug followed by another would be more beneficial than the single drug, but that is not what the study found," says Stephanie Bernik, MD, who is chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

In addition to Femara, two other aromatase inhibitors are widely used in the treatment of postmenopausal women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancers: AstraZeneca's Arimidex (anastrozole) and Pfizer's Aromasin (exemestane).

"It appears that the class of drugs offers better outcomes, but there is still a role for tamoxifen," she says. "Some patients can't tolerate aromatase inhibitors."

Tamoxifen Side Effects

Tamoxifen is still widely used in the treatment of younger breast cancer patients, and it is the only drug approved to treat ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) -- early breast cancer that has not spread beyond the milk ducts.

Side effects of tamoxifen can include blood clots and an increased risk for endometrial cancer, while potential side effects with aromatase inhibitors include bone loss, an increased risk for heart disease, and joint pain.

Breast cancer specialist Jane Carleton, MD, of the North Shore-LIJ Health System Monter Cancer Center in New York, says between 30% and 50% of patients who take an aromatase inhibitor experience joint pain.

"This is a very common side effect," she tells WebMD.

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