Researchers have noted a 40% reduction in the rate of cancer recurrence in other parts of the body in post-menopausal women with breast cancer who took drug letrozole (Femara®, Novartis) after standard therapy. These findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in New Orleans, June 3-8, 2004.
Femara®, an aromatase inhibitor, has already been approved as a first-line treatment of metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
In a study of 5,200 women at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, the drug boosted the survival rate after 2.5 years in women whose cancer had already spread to their lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis. Before being enrolled in the study, the women had undergone surgery and had taken the drug tamoxifen for five years. At that point, patients usually discontinue medication; in this study, however, the women received either Femara® or a placebo.
Approximately 30% of women with breast cancer experience a recurrence after five years. The trial, sponsored by Novartis, suggests that Femara® might be the first hormonal therapy to demonstrate a survival advantage in the extended period following standard therapy with tamoxifen. (It is not considered safe to continue taking tamoxifen for more than five years.)
A cautionary note: almost 7% of women who received Canadian Femara were more likely to develop osteoporosis, compared with a rate of 5.5% for patients taking placebo.