Two inexpensive generic drugs have shown that they can improve survival rates for women who develop breast cancer after menopause.
A class of hormone-therapy drugs called aromatase inhibitors and bone-preserving drugs called bisphosphonates improved survival and recurrence rates in postmenopausal women with early breast cancer.
Doctors believe that this could be the first step in figuring out which patients are more likely to benefit and which patients are not. Doctors will now be able to strategize when prescribing medications.
The meta-analyses was conducted by the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group in Great Britain. The organization reviewed results from numerous studies on hormone therapy breast cancer treatments and bone drugs over a decade.
According to researchers, two-thirds of breast cancer patients are post-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive tumors. These tumors either use estrogen or progesterone, or both in order to grow.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer works to either block the receptors for estrogen or progesterone on the tumor or works to eliminate these hormones from the system.
Although tamoxifen has been used in this manner for several decades, use of aromatase inhibitors, which destroys estrogen made outside the ovaries, has become a more standard treatment for post-menopausal patients.
These recent studies demonstrate that that aromatase inhibitors are more effective at reducing breast cancer deaths and recurrence than tamoxifen.
Although both types of treatment have side effects, those from tamoxifen can be more life-threatening. Tamoxifen can increase risk for blood clots in the lung and legs, stroke, cataracts and uterine cancer, although the most serious side effects remain rare.
On the other hand, aromatase inhibitors do not do that, they have other side effects such as joint discomfort and a slightly higher risk of osteoporosis, which can lead to increased risk of fractures.
The other study looked at bisphosphonates as a treatment. Bisphosphonates are generally prescribed to post-menopausal women to help protect their bones from the side effects of hormone therapy combined with age-related bone weakening.
The study included 18,766 women in 26 random trials, comparing two to five years of bisphosphonate treatment versus no bisphosphonate. For post-menopausal women, bisphosphonate treatment was able to reduce the rate of cancer recurring in the bones by 28% and also reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by 18% in the first decade after diagnosis.