Study may reveal improved treatment for hormone-sensitive breast cancer

BY Vicky Pasquantonio  June 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM EDT
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A National Institutes of Health study released Sunday looks at a new way to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer in young women in the early stages of the disease. Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

There is a new way to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer in young women in the early stages of the disease, according to a study released Sunday by the National Institutes of Health.

The study shows the new treatment reduces the risk of breast cancer by 28 percent and reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 34 percent compared to a second treatment conducted in the study.

Scientists discovered that the treatment, which used the drug Exemestane, was more effective in treating invasive breast cancer in young women than the second treatment, which used the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen.

Both treatments used ovarian function suppression, which blocks hormone production in women — hormones like estrogen that certain cancer cells are receptive to. Previously, Exemestane had been proven to be more effective than Tamoxifen only in postmenopausal breast cancer patients.

Dr. Jo Anne Zujewski of the National Cancer Institute said although the total benefit of decreasing breast cancer was modest, about four percent, the results were statistically and clinically significant and could change the way doctors practice.

At five years from the start of the study, nearly 93 percent of women remained breast cancer free after receiving the Exemestane and ovarian function suppression. The number of women remaining breast cancer free with Tamoxifen and ovarian function suppression stood at around 89 percent.

The study conducted was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago Sunday.

There are different types of breast cancer, and the more doctors know about the type of breast cancer a woman has, the better the treatment plan is likely to be. Hormone-sensitive breast cancer represents 79 percent of breast cancers in women under the age of 50.

“Another thing to remember is that any choice of therapy has to weigh risk of recurrence, risk of side effects, potential benefits, and patient preference,” Dr. Zujewski said. ”These study results, however, are good news for pre-menopausal women with breast cancer.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, one in every 227 women in the U.S. between the ages of 30 and 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, or four to five percent of women under the age of 40. That number increases with age, which remains the strongest risk factor in developing breast cancer.

Between the ages of 50 and 60, one out of every 28 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

About 5,700 women from 27 countries participated in the trials, which were conducted from 2003 to 2011.