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According to an analysis of younger postmenopausal women with an elevated risk of breast cancer, use of tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention is likely to save lives and reduce medical costs. These findings were published in the journal CANCER.

Tamoxifen is used for breast cancer treatment as well as for breast cancer prevention in women who are at high risk of the disease. Tamoxifen interferes with the activity of estrogen, a hormone that can stimulate the growth of some breast cancers.

Potential serious side effects of tamoxifen include blood clots, endometrial (uterine) cancer, and cataracts. Given the risk of side effects, it’s important to identify those women who are likely to benefit from tamoxifen.

To assess the effects of tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention, researchers developed mathematical models based on four clinical trials. The analysis focused on postmenopausal women under the age of 55.

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The researchers found that among women in this population who had an elevated risk of breast cancer (five-year risk of 1.66% of higher), tamoxifen saved lives and had a low frequency of serious side effects. According to one of the researchers involved in the study, “chemoprevention with tamoxifen prevents 24 breast cancer cases and 9 breast cancer deaths per 1,000 women treated, and it saves $47,580 per 1,000 women treated in the United States.”

These results suggest that when used by certain groups of women for breast cancer prevention, tamoxifen can save lives and reduce medical costs.

Reference: Noah-Vanhoucke J, Green LE, Dinh, TA, et al. Cost-effectiveness of chemoprevention of breast cancer using tamoxifen in a post-menopausal U.S. population. CANCER [early online publication]. March 14, 2011.