URBANA – Imagine being able to pop a single pill a day to keep breast cancer away.
Local women will have a chance to help researchers find out if it works by participating in a major clinical trial that got under way this week at the Carle Cancer Center in Urbana.
Researchers at Carle and elsewhere plan to track the health of 4,500 women for five years to see if taking a single daily dose of exemestane – a drug that inhibits the production of estrogen – can prevent breast cancer in healthy postmenopausal women.
The study was launched in March by the National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group and drug maker Pfizer Inc., which markets exemestane under the name Aromasin.
Cancer centers throughout the United States, Canada and Spain are participating, with Carle being one of three research sites in Illinois.
Estrogen contributes to breast cancer growth, and researchers have already learned that women who have had breast cancer and took exemestane can were spared the recurrence of cancer in the other breast.
The principal investigator for the study at Carle is Dr. Kendrith Rowland, an oncologist who is director of research at the Carle Cancer Center.
Rowland said he encourages qualified women in the area to participate, because breast cancer is one of the most feared diseases in women and the study holds a lot of potential for prevention.
"If a disease can interfere with someone's life span in the peak of life, breast cancer is probably number one," he said.
To be eligible for the study, women must be at least 35, past menopause, and carry an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Risk factors will be determined through a basic health screening. Some risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, early menstruation, late menopause and either having no children or having a first child after age 30, according to the American Cancer Society.
Susan Symanski, clinical research prevention coordinator at the Carle Cancer Center, said applicants for the study will also be asked to undergo a routine health exam, blood tests, a mammogram and a bone mineral density test.
Symanski said Carle began enrolling women this week.
"We're going to open it to as many women as we can enroll," she added.
Participants will take one pill per day, with one group taking exemestane and one taking a placebo.
Participants will also fill out some quality-of-life forms at home and report for periodic exams throughout the five years of the study, Symanski said.
Exemestane is already approved in the United States as a treatment for advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women who are no longer being helped by another cancer drug called tamoxifen, which blocks the effects of estrogen in certain areas of the body.
Rowland said tamoxifen is unacceptable to many women and their doctors because it also carries a risk of uterine cancer and blood clots.
Potential side effects of exemestane are hot flashes and mild nausea, but Rowland said the hot flashes associated with exemestane are much less severe than those with tamoxifen.
For more information, call the Carle Cancer Center Research Office at (217) 383-3512. Or see the Web site at www.carlecancercenter.com.