THURSDAY, Dec. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term use of aromatase inhibitors, drugs often prescribed to breast cancer patients, may increase the risk of heart problems for postmenopausal women, according to a Canadian researcher.
''There have always been suspicions," said Dr. Eitan Amir, senior fellow at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, who is scheduled to present the findings this week at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.
In December 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a warning label to anastrozole, an aromatase inhibitor marketed as Arimidex, citing a potential increased risk for heart disease.
Amir's team evaluated previously published studies to find out if other aromatase inhibitors also increased the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women with breast cancer. ''We looked at seven trials which have compared aromatase inhibitors with tamoxifen,'' he said
Aromatase inhibitors, which also include Femara and Aromasin, prevent the production of estrogen, which some cancers need to grow and spread. Tamoxifen, another drug frequently prescribed for breast cancer patients with estrogen-sensitive tumors, blocks the effect of estrogen in breast tissue. Under current guidelines, the two drugs may be used in either order for the several years of treatment typically recommended.
''Overall, there is a 26 percent increased risk in heart events -- heart attack, angina and heart failure -- for women taking aromatase inhibitors for longer duration," which typically means more than three years, Amir said.
''But those are relative statistics, and they can be a bit misleading," he says. A relative risk compares the risk in two different groups of people. Another measure -- absolute risk -- refers to one person's actual risk of developing the disease over a given time period.
In this study, the absolute risk to any one woman
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