According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported in the New York Times, a drug currently used to stop breast cancer from reoccurring could actually prevent the disease from developing in the first place. Other drugs have, in the past, been used to ward off breast cancer, but they are infrequently prescribed because of their serious side effects.
This drug, exemestane (also known by the brand name Aromasin), does not have these drawbacks. It stops the production of estrogen, which causes tumors to grow, and in the large randomized study of 4,500 post-menopausal women who were considered to be at higher risk of breast cancer, the risk of breast cancer was reduced by 65 percent.
The question is whether the drug will catch on. Although the side effects are not as devastating as those that accompany other drugs, exemestane causes bone pain and joint pain that might make healthy women unwilling to take it. There are also concerns about whether insurance companies will cover the drug, even though a generic version could be available soon.
One of the other unknowns is whether the drug lengthens women’s lives. This, the researchers say, they do not have enough information to speculate about, much less draw definitive conclusions. It may slow the progression of ovarian cancer, but it’s hard to tell whether women would actually live longer if they took the drug.
For now, it’s encouraging to have more potential options for combating breast cancer, and even preventing it before it develops. But as with most drugs, exemestane is no panacea, and there are many factors that will influence its efficacy and success.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.