Major Changes for Some Breast Cancer Patients

Research suggests that taking Tamoxifen for longer increases survival rate

By Lindsay Wilcox
|  Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011  |  Updated 5:44 PM CDT
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There's new information about Tamoxifen, one of the most widely used drugs in the battle against breast cancer.

Lindsay Wilcox, NBCDFW.com

There's new information about Tamoxifen, one of the most widely used drugs in the battle against breast cancer.

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Information presented at a recent symposium suggests that taking a popular anticancer drug for twice as long leads to better survival rates in breast cancer patients.

A presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Symposium looked at a follow-up to a study of 11,000 women that found that taking Tamoxifen for 10 years increases survival rates. The follow-up to the original 2008 European study looked at four more years of data.

Dr. Robyn Young with the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Fort Worth has typically prescribed Tamoxifen for five years. But armed with information presented at the symposium, she is doubling the length of treatment for her patients to 10 years.

"In 2008, when we had the information, it looked like 10 years reduced the risk of recurrences about 12 percent better than five years," said Young. "Now, as a follow-up, we can say that translates into a survival benefit of about 2 percent, which may not sound like much, but if you're talking about a million women worldwide, saving the lives of those 2 percent of women is huge."

Lauri Landon, a 45-year-old mother of three, was diagnosed with lobular carcinoma and decided to fight the cancer aggressively. Landon opted for a double mastectomy followed by six rounds of chemotherapy.

"I am cancer-free and planning to stay that way," said Landon, who takes one Tamoxifen pill every day.

Tamoxifen causes side effects such as hot flashes and fatigue. But patients determined to beat the cancer long term say it's a small price to pay.

"You just have to turn around and say, 'I'm doing this for them because I want to be here. I want to be a great grandma,'" said Landon.

Tamoxifen is one of the most widely used drugs in the battle against breast cancer. More than 1 million people take it worldwide.

The study has not prompted a change in guidelines from the National Cancer Institute.

Young suggested that patients already on Tamoxifen talk with their oncologists to determine their best course of treatment.

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