Health Watch - Preventing Breast Cancer

Chances are, you or someone you love has already been handed the diagnosis. New treatments for breast cancer get a lot of press and, while that's always good news, researchers are testing a new drug that doesn't treat breast cancer, but could prevent it altogether.

Beth Reipas is no stranger to cancer. Six of her closest family members have fought it.

"I would sort of embrace any option that's out there to help increase my odds of preventing getting it," Reipas says.

Because breast cancer is especially prevalent in her family, Reipas joined a study on a new drug to prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

"It works by lowering the amount of estrogen in a woman's body," says Andrea Eisen, M.D., a medical oncologist at Odette Cancer Centre, part of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Dr. Eisen says the drug, called exemestane (Aromasin), lowers estrogen levels by more than 95-percent.

"Higher levels of estrogen have been linked to increased incidence of breast cancer," Dr. Eisen says.

The drug blocks a protein needed for estrogen production called aromatase.

"Some healthy people aren't interested in taking a pill every day, but those who are, are highly motivated. They often have an experience of breast cancer in their family and don't want to be in that situation," Dr. Eisen says.

An earlier study in women who had already had breast cancer showed taking exemestane cut the risk of cancer in the other breast by 46-percent.

"One tiny little pill a day. You hardly notice any difference," Reipas says.

She is optimistic about the research. "I hope that this one is the new best thing. You have to go into this believing that this is going to be the drug that changes everything for so many women," Reipas says.

She knows the drug doesn't guarantee she won't get breast cancer, but she says she'll do anything to lower the odds.

The international study is open only to postmenopausal women and is still enrolling patients. As with all drugs, some women might experience side effects. Those side effects include hot flashes, joint pain and osteoporosis.


Natalie Chung-Sayers
Public Relations
Sunnybrook Research Institute
(416) 480-6100 ext. 2253

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