Monday, August 22, 2011

Breast Cancer News (8/22): Drug Shortage, Hot Flashes and Gifts for Mastectomy Patients

Today in breast cancer news, there are stories on the government response to the drug shortage, the use of hormone replacement therapy to treat hot flashes and a great piece on gifts for mastectomy patients. Interestingly, all of today's stories are from the New York Times.

The US considers interventions in response to the drug shortage

The chemotherapy drug shortage is real. A subscriber recently shared that she was unable to receive her last infusion of Taxol (paclitaxel). She was given another, similar drug instead. (She shares her experience in her blog.)

Last week, USA Today ran a story on price gouging due to the shortage.

On Friday, the New York Times wrote about government plans for intervention. (Link may be found on the Taxol page of our website.) Proposals include a national stockpile of cancer drugs, a nonprofit to manage drug import and manufacture, mandatory early warnings of shortages and increased inspections of foreign plants.

In the meantime, concern and prices are soaring. Dr. Michael Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, was quoted in the New York Times, "These shortages are just killing us." “These drugs save lives, and it’s unconscionable that medicines that cost a couple of bucks a vial are unavailable.”

Hot flashes, hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer risk

Is hormone replacement therapy, which has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, still an option to treat hot flashes during menopause?

An August 15 blog in the New York Times suggests it should be for some. For women with severe symptoms, hormone replacement is effective. Alternative remedies such as soy and flaxseed have been disappointing in clinical trial.

According to the article, some doctors are frustrated by the message that women must seek alternative treatment. They believe risk of breast cancer should be factored into the decision like any other treatment side-effect. For some women, the benefits of hormone replacement would outweigh the risks.

Back in May, the Los Angeles Times ran a similar piece. Dr. Richard Santen, the endocrinologist interviewed, clarified that studies on breast cancer risk have involved women in their 60s. For women in their 50s, who have had a hysterectomy, estrogen alone may be taken to treat symptoms of menopause. For women with a low personal risk of breast cancer, taking estrogen and progesterone results in a potential breast cancer risk which is "also quite low." On the other hand, women with a family history of breast cancer and high personal risk should not take estrogen plus progesterone. He concluded, "We've got to individualize the therapy to the individual patient."

Gifts for mastectomy patients

"What gifts bring the most comfort to breast surgery patients?" Last week, the New York Times shared an entry from the Losing My Boobs blog with terrific suggestions for gifts for mastectomy patients. It's a must read for women facing surgery and her friends and family.

Please check back tomorrow for more breast cancer news and research updates. Until then, all news and research on any breast cancer test or treatment option may be found on the website.

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