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Cancer 'wonder drug' affects bone density: report

Mar 01, 2012 09:51 AM IST India India

Mumbai: A new concern has come to light for those battling breast cancer. A drug commonly used in India to treat the condition has been found to decrease bone density in older women.

Considered a 'wonder drug' for breast cancer treatment, Exemestane, sold under the brand name, Aromasin, is commonly used in India. It is often prescribed for daily use to breast cancer patients for a period of five years. But now a study published in the medical journal 'The Lancet' has found that it decreases bone density.

The study surveyed 4500 women in their 60s for over two years. Scientists at the University Health Network in Toronto found that while the drug was highly effective in reducing breast cancer by two-thirds, after two years, what's called cortical bone thickness in women who took the drug declined by three times, compared to those who didn't take it.

That increases the risk of fractures. A serious concern is that four out of five fractures after the age of 60 years, which are either fatal or cause a life long disability, occur because of the loss of bone mineral density, according to the Arthritis Foundation of India. But doctors say that it's an understood risk.

Dr Namita Pandey, Oncologist in Hiranandani Hospital, said, "There are not that many drugs for use in breast cancer, hence, the choice is limited. But for women with osteoporosis we do not advise this drug. Along with supplements, we advise regular bone scanning which gives us an idea of bone mineral density."

Pfizer, which makes the drug, says, "The use of Aromasin as preventative therapy in postmenopausal women at high risk for developing breast cancer is not included in the Aromasin label in the US and Europe, as well as other countries. Pfizer cannot comment on regulatory plans for Aromasin at this time. It's important to note that these data are in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines relating to the management of postmenopausal women at high risk for developing breast cancer. This study, which was conducted by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, was supported by an independent research grant from Pfizer. Pfizer was not involved in the design and conduct of the study. The investigators of this study are the best source of information on the full results."

Experts say the drug is an aromatase inhibitor, which means that it blocks production of estrogen, which is what leads to bone density loss.

One in 22 women in India develop breast cancer, according to AIIMS, but given this latest study, if one is at the risk of osteoporosis or weak bones, they should check with their doctor.