Bone drug shows promise for breast cancer prevention
Raloxifene helps prevent osteoporosis and may lower the chances of breast cancer
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April 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT (0320 GMT)
From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
(CNN) -- Researchers at the National Osteoporosis Foundation say that a drug approved to prevent osteoporosis may also lower the risk of breast cancer by as much as 80 percent.
The drug is raloxifene and it is manufactured by Eli Lilly under the name Evista.
"We have to caution that our data are very preliminary," says Dr. Robert Lindsay of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. "Raloxifene seems to reduce the risk of breast cancer somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, depending on how the data have been analyzed."
Raloxifene is one of a class of drugs sometimes referred to as designer estrogens. They act like estrogen in some parts of the body where it is helpful -- such as the bones and heart -- and not like estrogen in places where it would be harmful -- such as the breast and, in some cases, the uterus.
Earlier this month, it was announced that another designer estrogen called tamoxifen appeared to cut the rate of breast cancer by nearly one-half for healthy women at high risk for the disease.
But researchers also discovered that taking tamoxifen may increase the chances of uterine cancer.
Unlike tamoxifen, raloxifene does not appear to increase that risk.
And if that sounds too good to be true, breast cancer specialist Dr. William Wood says it just might be. Raloxifene has been studied for just three years, not long enough in his estimation to be sure it is safe.
"It looks very safe," Wood says, "but we have three years of human data. To treat healthy women, I want a very safe drug."
Because raloxifene was approved only as a treatment for thinning bones, Eli Lilly can make no claims about its ability to prevent breast cancer.
And at the moment there are no plans to do a long-term study to investigate the drug's ability to prevent breast cancer.