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Good for the Breast, Bad for the Bone

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A new study in Lancet Oncology has disappointed doctors who had hoped to use the drug exemestane to reduce a healthy person's risk of developing cancer, reports The New York Times' Andrew Pollack. The study shows that use of the drug — which is already used to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer in patients — can result in significant bone loss, Pollack says. A large trial conducted last summer showed that using exemestane in a preventive setting can reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer by about 65 percent compared with placebo, and without the life-threatening side effects of other drugs like tamoxifen and raloxifene. But in the new study, Pollack says, the researchers found that women who were treated with exemestane showed an average 6.1 percent decline in bone mineral density of the wrist, compared with a 1.8 percent decline in the same for women who were given a placebo. "The exemestane users also had more evidence of a weakening of bone structure. That suggested that conventional bone density tests may not be able to detect all the damage caused by the drug," he adds.

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