Soon the drugs known as aromatase inhibitors (AI) may even help prevent the disease. Trials are under way in high-risk postmenopausal women. It’s a tricky area, though.
Unlike hormone therapies such as tamoxifen, which block estrogen, aromatase inhibitors prevent estrogen from being produced in the first place. This can lead to bone loss, and doctors may be reluctant to put an otherwise healthy woman at risk for osteoporosis.
Still, the new medications are making a difference.
One U.S. study found that after they became more widely used, survival increased by 30 percent, or about 7.5 months. Doctors expect that number to grow.
Edith Perez, MD, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, is launching a trial comparing the effectiveness of the drugs Tykerb and Herceptin.
Both disable the HER2 protein that can make cancer cells grow. Some women in the study will get both drugs to see if they offer a double punch to the enemy protein.