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Can Women Take A Pill To Prevent Breast Cancer?

Imagine a woman so desperate to shed the risks of breast cancer that have harmed the health of her aunt, mother and grandmother she's willing to donate her living body to science in support of that goal. This woman and many others like her in the throughout the world with histories of breast cancer in their families have volunteered for drug trials in hopes of developing a new class of drugs to prevent the second deadliest cancer among women (after lung cancer).

Even though the real benefits and side effects haven't been determined yet...

Even though the risks may severely outweigh the alleged benefits...

Even though the women volunteering for the drug trial are healthy...

Does this sound awfully fishy to you too?

The American study is testing Aromasin (exemestane), one of a class of new drugs called aromatase inhibitors that block formation of estrogen, which can fuel the growth of breast cancer cells. Another aromatase inhibitor, Arimidex (anastrozole) is being tested in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The drugs have been shown to cut the relapse rate for breast cancer at least as effectively as tamoxifen, the only other estrogen-blocking drug available. Although tamoxifen reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer, it also raises their chances of blood clots, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer discouraging many women from taking it.

A number of bioethicists have the same problem I do with testing new and potentially toxic drugs on healthy women. In fact, some believe it's really tough to get true informed consent on studies like these because some women have an overly heightened fear of breast cancer, far exceeding their true risks, and likely a larger expectation of a benefit than is realistic.

Fact is, there's plenty you can do to reduce your odds of contracting breast cancer without taking a dangerous drug:

Washington Post May 22, 2005

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