New drugs battle breast cancer and osteoporosis

Q: What is the drug raloxifene? I heard that it protects against osteoporosis and breast cancer, but what about heart disease? Does it raise blood pressure and cause water retention like estrogen does? Can one combine it with soy isoflavone supplements to ease menopause symptoms?

A: Raloxifene is the prototype of a new family of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators. These chemicals act like estrogen in some parts of the body, while blocking estrogen’s effects on other organ systems. The first widely used SERM, as they are known, was tamoxifen, the drug which has been used to treat breast cancer, and in trials recently published, has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk patients.

Raloxifene was introduced as an agent to prevent osteoporosis, and several large studies have proven its effectiveness at increasing bone density in post-menopausal women. In these studies, women also were shown to lower their LDL (bad cholesterol) and fibrinogen, both of which are involved in the development of heart attacks. And recently, two studies have shown that women on raloxifene decrease their risk of developing breast cancer, by as much as 70% (50% in the other study).

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