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Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing the Hormonal Options

Tamoxifen has been the standard in hormonal breast cancer treatment for decades. But newer treatments are challenging tamoxifen's superiority.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

To Kathryn Anderson, the hormonal treatment tamoxifen offered a new lease on life. A survivor of breast cancer, she had been through two surgeries, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy when her doctors put her on tamoxifen.

Anderson is not alone. In the 25-plus years since tamoxifen became a mainstay of breast cancer therapy, the pill has saved thousands of lives. But now, newer hormonal agents known as aromatase inhibitors are contesting the superiority of tamoxifen and competing for attention.

One of the biggest concerns with tamoxifen is that it stops working after five years, doctors say. Yet one-third of cancers that recur come back between five and 10 years later.

Anderson says that after her five years of tamoxifen therapy ended she always feared a recurrence, feeling that her safety net had gone away.

Until now. A study published in 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that taking the aromatase inhibitor Aromasin after two to three years of tamoxifen reduced breast cancer recurrence by 32%.