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Estrogen Therapy Useful In Treating Breast Cancer

August 19, 2009

Researchers report that the paradoxical strategy of treating breast cancers that have become resistant to anti-estrogen therapies with estrogen actually proved to be effective in some cases.

On top of that, the estrogen even caused some of the tumors to become sensitive to anti-estrogen drugs again.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the findings could lead to a partial reversal in how metastatic breast cancer is now being treated, which involves the use of medicines to lower estrogen levels.

“When estrogen-lowering drugs no longer control metastatic breast cancer, the opposite strategy might work,” said a statement from the Washington University School of Medicine, which carried out the tests.

Oncologist Matthew Ellis, who worked as lead author of the study, stated that approximately one-third of the women who did not respond to standard treatment responded well to the low-dose estrogen treatment.

“Raising estrogen levels benefited 30 percent of women whose metastatic breast cancer no longer responded to standard anti-estrogen treatment,” he said.

Tampering with estrogen levels can cause some adverse effects. Women could experience side effects such as headaches, bloating, breast tenderness, fluid retention, nausea and vomiting. However, Ellis says these side effects are minimal compared to other treatments.

“We found that estrogen treatment stopped disease progression in many patients and was much better tolerated than chemotherapy would have been.”

Some experts remain cautiously enthusiastic about the findings, wanting further research to support the claim.

“It’s an interesting observation, but it needs to be expanded into a large trial,” said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.
 
“There’s probably something biologically going on here that we don’t quite understand. The question is, can we translate this into really clinically meaningful responses?”

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