Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Breast Cancer Deaths Decline Tamoxifen Gets Most of the Credit

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Breast Cancer Deaths Decline Tamoxifen Gets Most of the Credit

Article excerpt

LONDON -- Better treatment over the last decade has slashed breast cancer death rates in the United States and Britain and will save the lives of 14,000 women this year in the two countries, new research shows.

Most of the credit goes to the drug tamoxifen, taken by about 1 million women worldwide, said Sir Richard Peto, a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University who headed the study, published this week in The Lancet medical journal.

"This is the first time that improvements in the treatment of any type of cancer have ever produced such a rapid fall in national death rates," Peto said. "They really are remarkable trends."

While "a lot of things contribute, I think the key one is tamoxifen," he said, adding that it's much too sudden a drop to be due to changes in the causes of the disease.

Britain and the United States were studied mostly because they had the most current, detailed statistical information and because they were among the first to use tamoxifen, Peto said.

An analysis of other Western countries would show they already are starting to see a similar trend, said Kent Osborne, director of the breast center at Baylor University in Texas, who was not connected with the study.

Osborne agreed with Peto that breast cancer screening, which only started to become widespread in the 1980s, has not been around long enough to cause the death rates to drop.

Peto said death rates will continue to decline once the benefits of screening emerge and other countries begin to more widely use tamoxifen.

His research showed that breast cancer deaths will be down 30 percent in Britain this year, compared with the late 1980s, before chemotherapy and tamoxifen became widely used. It indicated 13,000 women would die of breast cancer this year, compared with 17,000 in the late 1980s.

The United States will experience an estimated 20 percent drop in death rates, with about 40,000 women dying of cancer this year, Peto said. If treatment methods were at their pre-1989 stage, 50,000 would die this year, he said.

Britain is slightly ahead, probably because tamoxifen was invented there and used there first, Peto said. …

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