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Cognitive Skills May Shrink With Tamoxifen
Date:2/11/2010

Breast cancer drug still has lifesaving qualities, expert stresses

THURSDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- The breast cancer drug tamoxifen -- used for three decades to treat the disease -- appears to affect cognitive abilities, including some types of memory, a new study has found.

"Our results are important for breast cancer patients because intact cognitive functioning is known to be an important precondition for well-being," said study author Christien Schilder, a doctoral student at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.

After a year of taking tamoxifen (Nolvadex), women in the study scored lower on tests of verbal memory functioning and other cognitive skills than did women taking another breast cancer drug, exemestane (Aromasin).

Both drugs are considered hormone (or endocrine) therapy. Tamoxifen interferes with the activity of estrogen, which can promote the growth of breast cancer. Exemestane is an aromatase inhibitor, which decreases estrogen production in postmenopausal women.

Endocrine therapy is offered to many women with breast cancer, and "the choice for a specific endocrine agent and therapy sequence is, among others, based on the safety profile," Schilder said. "Therefore, we think that our results justify continuing research into the cognitive effects of endocrine therapy for breast cancer patients."

Schilder's study, funded by Pfizer, which makes Aromasin, was published online Feb. 8 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

For the study, the researchers gave neuropsychological evaluations to 299 women, including 179 with breast cancer. Testing was done at the start of the study and again after the women with breast cancer had had a year of hormone therapy -- 80 women taking tamoxifen and 99 taking exemestane.

The researchers found that tamoxifen users had lower scores in verbal memory and executive functioning -- which includes such things as bein
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