American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2010

Aromatase Inhibitors Increased Risk of Heart Disease in Postmenopausal Women with Breast Cancer


December 9, 2010

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• Increased risk for cardiovascular disease appears to be a drug class effect.
• Risk is small in general population, but may be high in patients with risk factors.
• Switching to aromatase inhibitors after tamoxifen use may decrease mortality unrelated to breast cancer.

SAN ANTONIO — Postmenopausal women who take aromatase inhibitors as a treatment for breast cancer may be at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, according to the results of a meta-analysis.

These data, presented at the 33rd Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, indicate that women presenting with breast cancer treatment who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease should be considered for a shorter duration of use of aromatase inhibitors.

“It appears that aromatase inhibitors have a significant increase in cardiotoxic side effects, such as heart attack, angina and heart failure,” said Eitan Amir, M.D., a senior fellow in the division of medical oncology and hematology at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto, Canada.

Because some cancers, especially breast cancers, require estrogen to grow and spread, drugs that block estrogen production are often used to treat the disease. Tamoxifen blocks the effect of estrogen in breast tissue, whereas aromatase inhibitors prevent the production of estrogen.

Each class of drugs also have related adverse effects. For example, although tamoxifen blocks estrogen production in breast tissue, it has the opposite effect in uterine tissue. Previous research has shown that extended use of tamoxifen results in a small increase in the risk for endometrial cancer and venous thrombosis.

On the other hand, in December 2008, the Food and Drug Administration added a warning label to anastrozole, an aromatase inhibitor, which indicated potential increased risk for heart disease. For this reason, Amir and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to determine if this increased risk for heart disease occurred with the use of any aromatase inhibitor.

The researchers examined data from seven large randomized clinical trials that compared tamoxifen with aromatase inhibitors in postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer.

Data from the analysis confirmed that any duration of use of an aromatase inhibitor was associated with a 20 percent higher probability of developing cardiovascular disease. However, use of aromatase inhibitors also resulted in a reduced risk for venous thrombosis and endometrial carcinoma.

As a secondary analysis, they determined if switching from treatment with tamoxifen to aromatase inhibitors had any effect on mortality or adverse effects. Results showed that the risk for serious adverse effects were similar when aromatase inhibitors were used as an initial treatment compared with switching to aromatase inhibitors after treatment with tamoxifen.

“However, it appears from the data — and this is strictly hypothesis-generating — that if a woman switches from one drug to another, there is a reduction in the risk from death from causes other than breast cancer,” Amir said. “This potentially suggests that there may be side effects that build up the longer a woman is on a certain drug, but switching drugs may reduce the side effects.”

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Follow the AACR on Twitter @AACR, and throughout the meeting using the hash tag #SABCS. Recordings of the teleconferences and video interviews with researchers will be posted to the AACR website throughout the meeting: www.aacr.org/page23506.aspx.

The mission of the CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is to produce a unique and comprehensive scientific meeting that encompasses the full spectrum of breast cancer research, facilitating the rapid translation of new knowledge into better care for breast cancer patients. The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and Baylor College of Medicine are joint sponsors of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. This collaboration utilizes the clinical strengths of the CTRC and Baylor, and the AACR’s scientific prestige in basic, translational and clinical cancer research to expedite the delivery of the latest scientific advances to the clinic. The 33rd annual symposium is expected to draw nearly 9,000 participants from more than 90 countries.

Contact Media:
Jeremy Moore
(267) 646-0557
jeremy.moore@aacr.org
In San Antonio, Dec. 8-12:
(210) 582-7036