Women who have had breast cancer should take hormonal drugs for 10 years to prevent recurrence, a new study found.

At present, experts recommend taking a drug for five years to prevent breast cancer from coming back. In the new study, however, they found that being on hormone therapy for 10 years yields better results.

Focus On Hormonal Therapy

Postmenopausal women with breast cancer, particularly in the UK, are taking a drug called aromatase inhibitors, which stop the conversion of androgens into estrogens through the enzyme aromatase. Such medication is helpful as breast cancer is closely linked to estrogens.

For women who have not reached the postmenopausal stage yet, doctors recommend a drug called tamoxifen, which also blocks the action of estrogens.

The two drugs have various side effects. Tamoxifen can cause mood swings, nausea and hot flushes. Aromatase inhibitors, on the other hand, may result in joint pain and weak bones and fractures. With this, some women choose to discontinue taking the drugs.

Investigating The Impact Of Treatment Duration

In the past, researches have shown that being on tamoxifen therapy for a decade resulted in lower recurrence rates than those who have been under it for five years only. Aromatase inhibitors, however, have been recognized to be more effective and are now used by more patients.

For the study, researchers looked at 1,918 women, of whom 959 were given an aromatase inhibitor drug called letrozole and the other 959 patients were given placebo. Some of these patients have already taken tamoxifen for five years. This means that some participants took hormonal drugs for 15 years while others, for 10 years.

Findings showed that fewer subjects who were on letrozole for a decade experienced either recurrence or new cancer in the other breast. However, this did not result in significant differences in survival outcomes. In cases when cancer went back, the disease was already at stage four and terminal.

"Our study shows that it is safe and beneficial for postmenopausal patients with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to take an aromatase inhibitor as adjuvant therapy for 5 years after initial treatment," the authors wrote. However, they added that the decision to take the drug still depends on the extent of the toxic effects of the drug on women's quality of life.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine on June 5.

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