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Longer Tamoxifen Use Helps Breast Cancer Survival

Study May Herald a Shift in Thinking About All Kinds of Hormone Treatments

Experts who were not involved in the study said it was likely to have a limited application, partly because newer drugs have displaced tamoxifen in older women and partly because it can be a difficult drug to take.

“I think there’s a group of women who are very concerned about recurrence and feel that if they can do anything to decrease their risk, that may be worth it for them,” says Jennifer Litton, MD, an assistant professor in the department of breast medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“Then there are a lot of other patients I have who are having side effects -- hot flashes and other issues -- who are counting the minutes to get off it.” For them, Litton says the additional benefits may not seem worth it.

Ravdin agrees that continuing treatment is likely to be a highly individual choice.

But he says the study is also important because of what it seems to signal about the biology of the disease.

“There are some people slated to have late relapses that our early therapies aren’t effective for blocking, but we can do better by actually treating women with additional hormonal therapy beyond five years, and that can be important,” Ravdin says.

The researchers agree.

“It encourages one to hope that any form of [hormone] treatment, whether it’s aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen, might be more effective with longer treatment,” says researcher Richard Gray, MSc, of the clinical trials services unit at the University of Oxford.

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