Some breast cancer drugs and blood vessel damage


WOMEN on breast cancer drugs called aromatase inhibitors may show signs of early blood vessel damage that could lead to heart disease, a small study suggests.
Researchers found that compared with healthy women their age, women on aromatase inhibitors were more likely to show signs of “endothelial dysfunction.”
That refers to problems in how the blood vessel lining responds to blood flow.
The findings are based on just 36 women who were prescribed the drugs. And experts stressed it’s too early to know what to make of the results.
Still, the study adds to evidence linking aromatase inhibitors to elevated risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and possibly full-blown heart disease.
Aromatase inhibitors include the drugs Aromasin (exemestane), Arimidex (anastrozole) and Femara (letrozole).
These drugs work by lowering a woman’s estrogen levels, and are often prescribed to postmenopausal women with early stage breast cancer that is hormone receptor-positive.
Most breast cancers are positive for hormone receptors, which means they use estrogen and/or progesterone to fuel their growth.
Studies show that for women with early stage, hormone-sensitive tumors, aromatase inhibitors can help prevent a return of breast cancer and reduce a woman’s risk of dying from the disease.
“I’m not saying women shouldn’t take these drugs,” said Dr.
Anne Blaes, the lead researcher on the new study. “I prescribe them regularly.”
But, Blaes said, as more and more women with early stage breast cancer are beating the disease, it’s important to study the long-term impact of their cancer treatments.
In fact, most U.S. women with early stage breast cancer are at greater risk of eventually dying from heart disease than from their cancer, said Blaes, an oncologist at the University of Minnesota.
Aromatase inhibitors work by blocking the body’s ability to convert other hormones into estrogen.
That’s a positive effect when it comes to preventing a breast cancer recurrence. But, in theory, it could be harmful to cardiovascular health because estrogen protects against heart disease, the researchers noted.

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