Most of us know at least one female in our family (or you may be that person) who had breast cancer brought on from estrogen due to being in a post-menopausal time of life. When I wrote here last year about my own mother’s treatment for the rarer lobular breast cancer, I admitted that I knew little to nothing about the role of estrogen in causing that type of breast cancer in older women. Being a male in his 30’s, it’s not exactly the first thing you think about when starting the day, despite having a writing career covering all ground and sky.
But due to those personal circumstances and eventual positive outcome, I found not only the reasons why estrogen fuels cancer cells–I was also enlightened on the newest drug to combat it: Arimidex, or the usual pronunciation-challenged generic name of Anastrozole.
If you’ve ever heard of this drug, you probably understand it as a general anti-estrogen pharmaceutical in the guise of recently questionable and possible efficacy-deficient Tamoxifen. However, Arimidex has turned into something much greater in usefulness beyond being a cancer preventative. It’s also an exponentially safer alternative to Tamoxifen or any other anti-estrogen drug used during post-treatment for breast cancer.
Don’t automatically assume, though, that you’ll be able to take Arimidex after dealing with radiation and possible chemotherapy. Certain side effects preclude it being used in some older women, depending on their health. When it was first suggested to my mother, it involved a long discussion with her oncologist about why it was being chosen and the tests that would have to be required in order to take it safely. In this personal case, it was used as an alternative to chemotherapy while doubling as a preventative to keep estrogen-fed cancer cells from re-developing.
Yes, while it doesn’t always get promoted that way, Arimidex is considered a different form of chemotherapy, albeit one prolonged for five years. The only difference is that Arimidex doesn’t cause the severe symptoms real chemo does, except for rare incidents of hair loss. Despite rumors to the contrary, hair loss is in a small minority of this drug’s users. The biggest problem in using Arimidex is in its supposed tendency to weaken bones–hence leading to eventual osteoporosis or arthritic conditions.
When my mom was told this, a positive was already noted: She already had stronger bones than most women her age. Nevertheless, the plan would be to have a bone density test every year to make sure Arimidex wasn’t deteriorating the true frame of the body.
Then there was the potential of dealing with the second most common side effect of the drug. As with many pharmaceuticals, fatigue is already a common problem. Arimidex, however, was known to cause severer fatigue, nearly equivalent to what you’d expect taking chemotherapy.
When you’re told by the oncologist that Arimidex is much more powerful and has a higher percentage rate of being successful in prevention, it registers right away that side effects will also be doubled. What’s usually overlooked in that, though, is in creating a ratio of how healthy the patient already is to the drug’s side effects. If you’re not obese, have no Diabetes or lack of other general ailments, the chances are good that the side effects won’t affect you quite as much than otherwise.
That kind of point might instigate an argument with doctors. Yet the personal experience I’ve seen with Arimidex proves that any symptoms you may have with it will be more tolerable if you also exercise regularly and keep active. Many users of Arimidex go on message boards for the drug to say that they feel ten to fifteen years older after taking it less than a year. Based on my mom’s experiences, it does occur, though isn’t debilitating if you fall under that above healthy criteria. If you’re an early riser, a healthy person will be able to sustain a reasonable energy until about late afternoon when you might start to feel worn down.
Such a scenario is only natural for a lot of people, old and young, male or female. Along with safeguards to keep your bones healthy (calcium supplements or drinking milk regularly is essential), the chances of Arimidex helping you prevent a re-occurrence of breast cancer is its biggest selling point. With Tamoxifen being said to possibly and contradictorily cause re-occurrences of certain breast cancers while concurrently attempting to prevent it, Arimidex seems like a wonder drug in comparison.
What makes the drug also stand alone in post-treatment for breast cancer is that it can work on both ends of the spectrum in the stage of breast cancer. In early stages after removing a small malignant tumor (ductal or lobular) and adjuvant treatments, Arimidex is being noted now for having a 40% efficacy over a five-year span in preventing re-occurrence in the opposite breast if the other was removed in mastectomy. For those with the latest stage of breast cancer (stage four), it’s also currently being used as an effective way to shrink existing tumors to give stronger chances of a late-stage cancer patient living longer.
Because that makes this one of the most powerful cancer drugs on the market today as a more comfortable alternative to chemo, you probably won’t be turned off knowing that it’s very expensive. Know, however, that because it’s generally priced at around $800, Medicaid and other good insurance plans do pay a good majority of the bill each month, bringing it to approx. $150. If needed, you can get further reductions from financial assistance organizations found through the American Cancer Society or United Way. Not many younger than 65 would be on Arimidex anyway–and having Medicaid will obviously be automatic after that age.
So far, it’s been a successful treatment in my family. If your oncologist encourages it and you’re not overly familiar with what it might do, be assured it’s the best possible choice at this stage. With estrogen being the equivalent of Al Qaeda in an older woman’s body, having a drug that’s truly successful at keeping breast cancer at bay is a major breakthrough in the erratic pharmaceutical industry.
Something better is sure to evolve later, but it’s a drug that you’ll have to take for five years while not destroying any sense of quality to that time frame of your life.
Information on financial assistance to help pay for Arimidex or any other cancer treatment: