Could Preventing Breast Cancer Be as Easy as Popping a Pill?

Maressa Brown

aromatase inhibitorsExperts often recommend a slew of preventative measures for women who are at a high risk of getting breast cancer: Frequent, early screenings, a healthy diet, exercise, regular self-exams, avoiding environmental factors or xenoestrogens, etc. Now, a new study claims these women could take a drug, which reportedly reduces the risk of breast cancer occurring in the first place.

The drug, exemestane (brand name Aromasin), is an aromatase inhibitor like tamoxifen and raloxifene, which stop the production of estrogen to curb tumor growth. But exemestane supposedly doesn't cause the same serious side effects (like blood clots) as the other drugs in its class.

The randomized study looked at 4,560 post-menopausal women considered to have a higher than normal risk of developing breast cancer. After a follow-up of about three years, 1.4 percent of women in the placebo group developed breast cancer versus about one-half of 1 percent of women taking the drug.

In other words, the numbers aren't super impressive, and there's also the fact that while exemestane didn't cause serious side effects in the three years, the women on the drug did have more hot flashes and arthritis than those on the placebo. Plus, women who are on aromatase inhibitors have other side effects like bone or joint pain, which can be so bad that women who already have had breast cancer skip them. 

It also bears noting that this study was paid for in part by Aromasin manufacturer Pfizer, and the lead researcher received honorariums (aka moolah) from the pharma company. Mmmhmmm.

The bottom-line: Exemestane may offer high-risk women an alternative to more toxic tamoxifen or a double mastectomy just to stave off cancer. But the safety of or risks associated with taking any drug to prevent the disease is still up in the air.

Would you personally take a drug to prevent breast cancer?


Image via Beatrice Murch/Flickr

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