Drug Shows Promise In Reducing Breast Cancer Risk A major study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology found a drug already used to fight breast cancer may help prevent the disease all together. The pills are called aromatase inhibitors and, up until now, they've been used to prevent recurring cases of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Michele Norris speaks to Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society.
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Drug Shows Promise In Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

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Drug Shows Promise In Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

Drug Shows Promise In Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

Drug Shows Promise In Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

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A major study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology found a drug already used to fight breast cancer may help prevent the disease all together. The pills are called aromatase inhibitors and, up until now, they've been used to prevent recurring cases of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Michele Norris speaks to Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

For more on those findings, we're joined now by Dr. Otis Brawley. He's chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. Welcome to the program.

D: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: How significant is this study in the war against breast cancer?

D: Well, it's an important study. We've actually already had two studies to tell us that tamoxifen and raloxifene also prevent breast cancer. Now we have a third drug, so women who are concerned about breast cancer, and concerned that they are at high risk, can actually look and have a choice of three drugs to try to change their risk.

NORRIS: This study looked at women who were all postmenopausal. Do the findings apply to women who have not yet reached menopause?

D: Unfortunately, they only work in women who are postmenopausal. It will not work in women who are premenopausal. However, the other two drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, actually do have a track record in decreasing risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.

NORRIS: Doctor, were you at all concerned that the study was relatively short, only three years? And I ask because other studies have been promising, but then later proved to be less than promising over time.

D: Tamoxifen in a postmenopausal woman can even cause uterine cancer. Interestingly, it can prevent breast cancer, but it increases risk of uterine cancer. It increases risk of blood clots and pulmonary emboli. And it's something that a woman needs to consider if she's going to want to take one of these drugs to try to decrease their risk of getting breast cancer.

NORRIS: Tamoxifen is in wide use for many reasons, but in part because it's affordable. Would that apply to this drug?

D: This drug right now costs somewhere around $300 a month. And most women, by the way, who take this drug also will need to take a drug to prevent osteoporosis. Fortunately, exemestane is about to become a generic drug. And so the drug itself is going to become much cheaper within the next year.

NORRIS: So how, or who, or what entity will ultimately determine how this drug might potentially be used? Will doctors began prescribing them to be used for prevention? Will women ask for them if they happen to know that they are in this high-risk category?

D: And also, people need to focus on other factors in breast cancer prevention. We know high caloric intake and lack of exercise all cause breast cancer. So people need to focus on all of those things. I'm a little worried, the fact that we have a pill to lower risk will make people ignore the other things.

NORRIS: Are you worried anytime you hear the word prevention in the same sentence with cancer?

D: But I'd like people to know that it does improve overall health, and improves the chances that you won't get these diseases.

NORRIS: Dr. Brawley, thank you for your time.

D: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That's Dr. Otis Brawley. He's the chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Brawley is also a professor at Emory University.

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