Hive Health Media

Extended Tamoxifen Use Can Save Lives

Doubling the time period in which Tamoxifen is prescribed and taken, could cut the death rates among breast cancer sufferers. The latest trials on this drug conclude that 10 years on Tamoxifen goes a long way to preventing a relapse of the cancer. The current practice guidelines recommend a 5 year course.

Breast cancer sufferers can never get out from under the shadow of the disease because it can and does recur, sometimes years later. 75% of cancer tumors in breasts are ‘estrogen receptor (ER) positive’ and for these types the hormone therapy drugs reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Tamoxifen is one such drug.

The Adjuvant Tamoxifen: Longer Against Shorter, known by its acronym ATLAS, is the research program that started in ‘96 and has just now published its findings. It was a breast cancer trial on a grand scale. Numerous medical centers took part and there were 12,000 patients with early onset of breast cancer. Previous studies were inconclusive when it came to prolonged medication with Tamoxifen, but not this biggest study of all. It is definite that fewer people die, thanks to ten years of the drug.

Breast cancer awareness, pink, covered breasts

The current standard course of treatment is a big weapon in the armoury in the fight against breast cancer. It greatly cuts, both the risk of a recurrence and mortality rates in the 15 years after diagnosis. So now the guidance for doctors may change because of these results, halving again the number of deaths from 10 to 20 years, post diagnosis.

This ATLAS study followed nearly 7000 ER positive patients, with 5 years of Tamoxifen history and who were registered from ‘96. Each of the women was randomly allocated to a group that either stopped the drug or went on to take it for a further 5 years. Each participant was examined annually for tumors and adverse reactions.

There were 56 fewer deaths from breast cancer, in the prolonged group than in the stopped group. This means a significant, just under 3% reduced mortality rate over the period of the trial.

However, as with all medications there are downsides. Extended Tamoxifen use is associated with increased probability of cancer of the uterus and even blood clots. As well as changing their medication routines, doctors need to help patients understand the potential risks. Medical consensus would seem to be that the gains are worth the risks. It is more likely that the women will live longer and avoid recurring breast tumors, even though they may incur some poisoning of other parts of their body.

The ATLAS outcomes are also an argument in favor of lengthier follow up after breast cancer treatment. The American Cancer Society comment on the study’s results;

“Many would like to think that five or 10 years out they are safe. But unfortunately there are women who will have a relapse and die from breast cancer. And that’s why this study is of importance, because this may warrant longer treatment and it shows that in breast cancer, long term trials are important.”

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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