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Light at the end of the tunnel?

In spite of self-examination, mammography, and nationwide awareness of the danger of breast cancer, more than 44,000 women will die of the disease this year, and one out of nine women may be expected to develop the disease during her lifetime. Early detection is our best weapon at present, but is there any hope of preventing the disease altogether, especially in those women whose family history suggests a high risk of getting the disease?

Researchers at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, England, think there is, and, as a result of their work, some 31,000 British and American women in the high risk group are expected to take part in a massive experiment aimed at prevention. The initial research project, involving 800 British women, is using an estrogen-blocking drug, tamoxifen, on a day-by-day basis in the hope of doing "irreparable damage" to the tumor cells before they can do any damage to the patient. It seems that an excess of the female hormone, estrogen, is able to stimulate the development of breast tumors, but if estrogen can be prevented from reaching the receptors in the breast cells that have the capacity to become malignant, cancer may not develop.

Tamoxifen has been used for years in postmenopausal women as an estrogen replacement and, more recently, has seemed to be effective in preventing the recurrence of breast cancer in women who have been treated for the disease. Because of its estrogen-blocking capability, it is now being used among women in the high risk group in the hope that it will prevent the disease altogether.

Details of the U.S. trials in women considered to be in the high risk group are expected to be announced soon by an advisory group headed by Dr. Bernard Fisher. Administered daily, tamoxifen has thus far been shown to have only minor side effects--and an unexpected benefit. The British women taking the drug have, on average, shown a 15 percent drop in their cholesterol levels.
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Title Annotation:tamoxifen may help to prevent breast cancer
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:And while we're on this subject....
Next Article:Cutting down on unnecessary lab tests.

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