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Breast Cancer Prevention Drugs Come With Risks

Sunday October 25, 2009
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Three drugs, including tamoxifen, reduce a womanís chance of getting breast cancer, but each drug carries distinct potential harms of its own, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Servicesí Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The comparative effectiveness review found that all three drugs ó tamoxifen, raloxifene, and tibolone ó significantly reduce invasive breast cancer in midlife and older women who have not previously had breast cancer, but that benefits and adverse effects can vary depending on the drug and the patient.

The most common side effects for tamoxifen are flushing and other vasomotor symptoms (e.g., night sweats, hot flashes), vaginal discharge and other vaginal symptoms such as itching or dryness; for raloxifene, side effects include vasomotor symptoms and leg cramps; and for tibolone, side effects include vaginal bleeding.

The report also found that each drug carried the risk of adverse effects. It found that tamoxifen increases risk for endometrial cancer, hysterectomies, and cataracts compared with the other drugs. Tamoxifen and raloxifene increase risk of blood clots, although tamoxifenís risk is greater. Tibolone carries an increased risk of stroke.

The report called for more research to more clearly identify characteristics of patients who would benefit from these drugs while suffering the least harm.

More information, including the new report, can be found at www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov.


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