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Both Raloxifene and Tamoxifen Effective in Preventing Breast Cancer

Initial results of the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene, or STAR, show that the drug raloxifene, currently used to prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, works as well as tamoxifen in reducing breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women at increased risk of the disease. In STAR, both drugs reduced the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by about 50 percent.

In addition, within the study, women who were prospectively and randomly assigned to take raloxifene daily, and who were followed for an average of about four years, had 36 percent fewer uterine cancers and 29 percent fewer blood clots than the women who were assigned to take tamoxifen. Uterine cancers, especially endometrial cancers, are a rare but serious side effect of tamoxifen. Both tamoxifen and raloxifene are known to increase a woman’s risk of blood clots.

The trial is coordinated by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), a network of cancer research professionals, and is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. “Today, we can tell you that for postmenopausal women at increased risk of breast cancer, raloxifene is just as effective, without some of the serious side effects known to occur with tamoxifen,” said Norman Wolmark, M.D., NSABP chairman.

STAR, one of the largest breast cancer prevention clinical trials ever conducted, enrolled 19,747 postmenopausal women who were at increased risk of the disease as determined by their age, family history of breast cancer, personal medical history, age at first menstrual period, and age at first live birth.  Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 60 mg of raloxifene (Evista®) or 20 mg of tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) daily for five years.  Details of the study include:

  • The numbers of invasive breast cancers in both groups of women were statistically equivalent. Among the 9,745 women in the raloxifene group, 167 developed invasive breast cancer, compared to 163 of 9,726 women in the tamoxifen group.
  • More than half of the women who joined STAR had had a hysterectomy and, therefore, were not at risk of uterine cancer. For those women with a uterus, 36 of 4,732 who were assigned to take tamoxifen developed uterine cancers (mainly endometrial cancer) compared to 23 of 4,712 women who were assigned to take raloxifene.
  • In STAR, women in the raloxifene group had 29 percent fewer deep vein thromboses (blood clots in a major vein) and pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lung) than women in the tamoxifen group. Specifically, 87 of 9,726 women in the tamoxifen group had a deep vein thrombosis compared to 65 of 9,745 women taking raloxifene. In addition, 54 of 9,726 women taking tamoxifen developed pulmonary embolisms compared to 35 of 9,745 women taking raloxifene.
  • The number of strokes occurring in both groups of women was statistically equivalent: 53 of 9,726 women in the tamoxifen group and 51 of 9,745 women in the raloxifene group had a stroke during the trial. There was no difference in deaths from strokes: 6 of 9,726 women in the tamoxifen group and 4 of 9,745 women in the raloxifene group died from this event. Women at increased risk of stroke (those with uncontrolled hypertension or uncontrolled diabetes, or a history of stroke, transient ischemic attack, or atrial fibrillation) were not eligible to participate in STAR.
  • While tamoxifen has been shown to reduce, by half, the incidence of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), raloxifene did not have an effect on these diagnoses. (LCIS and DCIS are sometimes called noninvasive breast cancers.) Of the 9,726 women taking tamoxifen, 57 developed LCIS or DCIS, compared to 81 of 9,745 taking raloxifene. This result confirms data reported in 2004 in a large study of raloxifene, the Continued Outcomes Relevant to Evista (or CORE Trial).

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