Aromatase Inhibitors Offer Better Survival Than Tamoxifen for Postmenopausal Women

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In November 2006 Breastcancer.org reviewed a study that showed that aromatase inhibitors are probably the best hormonal therapy medicine for postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive, early-stage breast cancer. A study underscores those results. Italian researchers found women who switched from tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor lived longer than women who stayed on tamoxifen.

After surgery, postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive cancer usually take hormonal therapy medicine for at least five years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Treatment that comes after surgery or another initial treatment is called adjuvant therapy.

Tamoxifen used to be the only hormonal therapy choice. Now there are three aromatase inhibitors available: Arimidex (chemical name: anastrozole), Aromasin (chemical name: exemestane), and Femara (chemical name: letrozole). Once aromatase inhibitors became available, many women switched from tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor. This was the case for half the women in this study (the other half received only tamoxifen). Based on earlier studies like this one, many women now receive an aromatase inhibitor first, instead of tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is still a better option than an aromatase inhibitor for younger, PREmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer. While an aromatase inhibitor is the best hormonal therapy to start with after initial breast cancer treatment for postmenopausal women with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, tamoxifen is still a good choice. For a number of reasons, including side effects and cost, tamoxifen may be a better choice for some women.

When you're deciding on a treatment plan, keep two things in mind:

  • Every woman responds differently to treatment. What works for someone else may not work for you and what works for you may not work for someone else.
  • Your treatment plan is not written in stone. You can always change treatments if another treatment has greater benefits and fewer side effects.

If you're a postmenopausal woman with hormone-receptor-positive, early-stage breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of aromatase inhibitors compared to tamoxifen. If you're currently taking tamoxifen, discuss whether switching to an aromatase inhibitor makes sense for you. Together, you can decide on a treatment plan that is best for YOU.

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