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Medications That Lower Breast Cancer Risk Carry Other Dangers
Date:9/14/2009

netic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, a strong family history, both, or other factors. Some choose to take the drugs to reduce risk. "It's important to call this [strategy] risk reduction, not prevention," Nelson said.

When Nelson's team evaluated the results from the studies, they found that tamoxifen and raloxifene boosted blood clots by 60 percent to 90 percent. Raloxifene caused fewer blood clots than tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen was also more likely than a placebo to lead to endometrial cancer and more likely to cause cataracts than was raloxifene.

In women over age 70, tibolone was associated with strokes.

Much of the information about this particular risk-and-benefit picture is already known, said Dr. Scott Maul, a medical oncologist at Oncology Alliance in Milwaukee. "They wanted to bring together all these studies under one publication, and try to quantify the benefit of these three different medications and their risk."

The decision to use the medications to reduce risk is not a simple one, Maul said. He urged women to talk it over with their doctors first. Nelson encourages women to get genetic testing and to use that genetic information -- including any findings about genetic mutations that boost breast cancer risk -- to get a more accurate picture of risk than other models may provide.

"The discussion on whether to use these drugs is a very detailed one with women," Maul said. While the decision is extremely individual, he did offer this advice: "Women should only take these [to reduce first-time breast cancer risk] if they are truly at higher risk for breast cancer." Even then, they may decide not to take them, he said, for good reasons. "If someone has risk factors for heart attack or stroke, these medications may not be a good idea."

More information

To learn more about a tool health professionals use to assess breast cancer risk, visit the

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