Should We Offer Medication to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk?: Grand Rounds Discussion From Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Ann Intern Med. 2016 Aug 2;165(3):194-204. doi: 10.7326/M16-0940.


In November 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a guideline on medications for risk reduction of primary breast cancer in women. Although mammography can detect early cases, it cannot prevent development of breast cancer. Tamoxifen and raloxifene are selective estrogen receptor modulators that have been shown to reduce the risk for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this indication. However, neither medication reduces the risk for estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer or all-cause mortality. The Task Force concluded that postmenopausal women with an estimated 5-year risk for breast cancer of 3% or greater will probably have more net benefit than harm and recommends that clinicians engage in shared, informed decision making about these medications. The American Society of Clinical Oncology issued a practice guideline on use of pharmacologic interventions for breast cancer in 2013. It recommends that women aged 35 years or older at increased risk, defined as a 5-year absolute risk for breast cancer of 1.66% or greater, discuss breast cancer prevention medications with their primary care practitioner. The Society includes the aromatase inhibitor exemestane in addition to tamoxifen and raloxifene as a breast cancer prevention medication, although exemestane is not FDA approved for this indication. Here, an oncologist and an internist discuss how they would balance these recommendations and what they would suggest for an individual patient.

Publication types

  • Clinical Conference

MeSH terms

  • Androstadienes / adverse effects
  • Androstadienes / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride / adverse effects
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride / therapeutic use
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / adverse effects
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use


  • Androstadienes
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Tamoxifen
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride
  • exemestane