Breast Cancer News: Drugs, Implants, and Prevention

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • A thoughtful column in the Washington Post this week makes a good point: that the public and the media may be too quick to jump on promising breast cancer research and declare it as more of a “victory” than it really may be. And, as a result of the media hoopla, women who might not ever develop breast cancer may be too quick to take drugs to prevent breast cancer, even though the drugs bring their own harmful side effects. A case in point: How the osteoporosis drug raloxifene is now being hailed as the latest winner in the breast cancer prevention battle, beating out the old war horse tamoxifen.
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    The column points out that the raloxifene study of 20,000 women did not, after all, prove that it prevented breast cancer in anyone, and that the study only lasted five years, which may be too short to definitively answer the underlying question of whether raloxifene will extend anyone’s life. While I think that the column is overly negative about the raloxifene results--a five-year study of 10,000 women is not nothing--it does offer some food for thought. And I agree that women who are at high risk, or who have seen loved ones die from the disease, or who have suffered the effects of breast cancer themselves, or any combination of those factors, are always trying to read the tea leaves of new studies, looking for positive news. Why wouldn’t we be? Of course, a cure would be the best news of all.

    Silicone or Saline? More fodder for the ever-controversial topic of whether breast implants make women more vulnerable to diseases, including cancer. The Food and Drug Administration is deciding whether to allow American women to use silicone implants again. Because of safety concerns about leaks, they were banned in 1992, except for women who had cancer surgery. Still, many women choose saline implants over silicone because of safety fears. A new study of 3,486 Swedish women who had breast implants for cosmetic purposes, most of them made from silicone gel, found that after an average of 18 years, 180 cancers were found among the group. That is a slightly lower cancer rate than among women without breast implants. Fewer women with breast implants developed breast cancer than the same number in the general population; only lung cancer was more prevalent among the women in the study than in the general population. According to the authors, higher rates of smoking within the group may explain the higher lung cancer rates, not the silicone gel.

Published On: May 03, 2006