A study published in the British journal The Lancet reports that the widely-used breast cancer drug tamoxifen, which is currently given to mostly post-menopausal breast cancer patients, could save as many as 20,000 more lives each year if administered to young women.
Women who were given tamoxifen for five years after surgery for breast cancer, starting immediately after the surgery, had half the recurrence rate of other women. This was true for all women, regardless of age.
Tamoxifen stops the spread of most forms of breast cancer by blocking hormones that promote its growth. The drug does not work on forms of cancer that are not sensitive to hormones.
Doctors previously believed that tamoxifen was only beneficial to older women, and often treated younger women with chemotherapy. There may be some women for whom tamoxifen is not appropriate, given the drug’s side effects, which include an increased risk for uterine cancer and blood clots in the lung. Despite these drawbacks, tamoxifen has the power to prevent 30 times more deaths than it could potentially cause.