Breast Cancer Drug Recommended for Women at High Risk

woman wearing breast cancer ribbonIf you could take a drug that would reduce your chances of getting breast cancer, would you take it? What if the drug had serious side effects of its own?

The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) is considering recommending that women at high risk for breast cancer take the breast cancer drugs tamoxifen or raloxifene to reduce their risk.

The drugs work by blocking the effects of estrogen on the body, therefore lowering the risk of estrogen-related cancers. However, the USPSTF, in their draft recommendation, stated that the drugs have “potentially serious side effects including increasing the risk of blood clots, strokes, and, for tamoxifen, increasing the risk of endometrial cancer.” These drugs may also cause hot flashes. This risk is especially high for women who smoke or have had a previous history of stroke or blood clots.

One in eight women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives. By the end of 2013, there will be over 232,000 new cases of breast cancer, and nearly 40,000 women will die from it. However, if taken in the right populations, these drugs could decrease one’s chances of developing breast cancer by 30-56%.

Despite the health risks that come from taking the medication itself, the USPSTF is considering restricting their recommendation for women who are at considerably high risk of developing breast cancer, based on factors like:

  • Age
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Age at first period
  • Age when she had her first child
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Medical history of breast cancer or abnormal cells found on biopsy
  • Personal history of breast biopsies

The USPSTF has opened this discussion to the public. From April 16 to May 13, 2013 the Task Force is welcoming the public to comment on the draft recommendation as well as give suggestions for changing it.

In the meantime, learn more about how you can prevent breast cancer with lifestyle modifications and diet.