You may have heard the term “chemoprevention” in conversations about breast cancer or had it mentioned by a doctor during a visit. The word is, as its two parts imply, the use of chemotherapy as a preventative technique against cancer. In breast cancer, it’s a way to delay the development of cancer by utilizing chemical therapies such as medicines, vitamins and diet to slow the progress of or delay the development of breast cancer.
The most well-known drug for this is tamoxifen, the first chemoprevention drug to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose. Studies have shown that it can reduce chances of breast cancer development by half in high risk women.
As with any therapy, however, there are benefits and draw backs. If chemoprevention worked without side effects or risks, then all physicians would recommend it to all women all of the time. Since it does have risks, however, it’s only prescribed in specific cases of need. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended against using tamoxifen or relaxifene (another chemopreventive) for breast cancer prevention except in women who are at high risk.
Women at high risk for breast cancer such as those with a family history of the disease, an inherited genetic mutation (such as BRCA), are obese, high risk lesions and family history, etc. will possibly be recommended for chemoprevention. In most cases, women who do not have a risk factor over 20% will not benefit from this option.