Recent research has unveiled new evidence that two types of inexpensive, generic drugs can be effective in increasing the survival rates of women with postmenopausal breast cancer while also decreasing recurrence.
An article in The Washington Post said the studies, featured in a July issue of peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, found that aromatase inhibitors (hormone suppressants) can reduce recurrence by 30%. Researches had suspected as much for some time, but the drug’s ability to decrease fatalities was a bit more surprising.
According to the study, taking the inhibitors for five years reduced the chances postmenopausal women with breast cancer would die of the disease by 40% when compared to a treatment that did not take measures to block hormones. The inhibitors essentially destroy estrogen that is not produced in the ovaries and have become standard medication for patients after menopause.
The other drugs are bisphosphonates normally used as a bone preservation medication. Bisphosphonates are typically prescribed for women to counteract the effect on their bones of hormone therapies combining with bone weakening due to age. Bones are where breast cancer often spreads.
The study using these types of medications revealed that of more than 18,000 women across 26 trials, treatment with bisphosphonates reduced cancer recurrence in bones by 28% and reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by 18%. The studies compared bisphosphate treatment lasting two years to five years versus none at all.
Previously, the drug tamoxifen had been used to treat cancer patients, but somewhat less successfully and with higher rates of recurrence. The drug also came with potentially, albeit rare, lethal side effects such as blood clots in the lungs and legs, stroke and uterine cancer.
Aromatase inhibitors are not completely clear of side effects, but they are much less extreme. Joint pain and an increased risk of osteoporosis are two of the more high profile side effects. Osteoporosis is particularly notable due to its ability to increase the risk of bone fractures, but taking the bisphosphonates in conjunction with aromatase inhibitors may help to counteract the potential damage of such a side effect.
Combined, the aromatase inhibitor and bisphosphonate could benefit patients because each counteracts side effects of the other, Dr. Dawn L. Hershman, associate professor of medicine and director of the breast cancer program at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told CBS News.