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Format: 04/21/2014
Format: 04/21/2014

News

Beaver County Times: Drug trials help nurse beat breast cancer

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

By: Patti Conley

A decade ago, Carol McClain decided to wage a daily war against breast cancer before breast cancer could stake its claim on her.

Today, she’s winning.

Score a round for the Rochester Township resident. She was among a sisterhood of some 19,747 post-menopausal women, all at high risk for developing breast cancer, who joined a major breast cancer prevention study comparing two drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene.

Now, countless other older women at high risk for breast cancer can make an informed decision on which drug would best suit them in preventing the insidious disease that killed 40,000 women in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society.

Neither tamoxifen nor raloxifene is recommended for women at average risk for breast cancer.

“It was a win-win. What was I going to lose?” a jubilant McClain said Tuesday, a day after the results of STAR, the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene, were announced at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington.

“I’ll do it,” McClain, the registered nursed turned medical consultant, said immediately in 1999 when obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. John Moraca told her about the study.

A fear of breast cancer had shadowed her for decades.

Her mother, the late Grace E. Greist of Monaca, underwent a single mastectomy for breast cancer and survived 16 years before dying of heart and kidney problems in 2006.

And throughout McClain’s adult life, annual mammograms and sonograms detected multiple benign cysts. Two benign lumps were removed. She believed breast cancer could be in her future.

“If it (the study) could help me, it could help my sister, my daughter, my grandchildren and other women,” McClain, 62, said. Breast cancer hasn’t spread to any of those loved ones.

So every morning for five years McClain took two pills — one a placebo, and the other either tamoxifen or raloxifene. STAR was a double-blind study. Neither participants nor researchers knew who was taking which drug.

McClain hoped that it was raloxifene, sold as Evista, a drug the FDA approved in 1997 to prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.

It was. She was told in 2006 when initial study results showed that both drugs equally reduced the risk of breast cancer by about 50 percent.

The study’s longer-term results released last Monday changed that equation.

Tamoxifen, which has been used for 30 years to treat patients diagnosed with breast cancer, still reduced the risk for breast cancer by 50 percent for older at-risk women. Raloxifene reduced the risk of breast cancer by 38 percent, the research showed.

However during this trial, raloxifene caused fewer cases of uterine cancer, fewer blood clots and cataracts, the research reported.

“We’ve now documented that it (raloxifene) is far less toxic,” (than tamoxifen), study leader Dr. D. Lawrence Wickerham, a cancer specialist at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh told the Associated Press.

Advertisement “The bottom line is that we currently have two medicines today that are beneficial to lowering the risk for breast cancer for high-risk women, one (tamoxifen) slightly better than the other, but it carries more important risk factors, and on the other hand the other drug (raloxifene) which is slightly less effective has a big benefit in reducing osteoporosis,” said breast cancer surgeon Dr. Thomas B. Julian, associate director of the Breast Care Center at AGH.

 To read more, visit the Beaver County Times website.

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