Study Will Examine Black Cohosh and Tamoxifen

Women with breast cancer, who frequently take the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen, are often at the age when they're also experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause - hot flashes and night sweats. So they need relief. But they can' take estrogen, which is the centerpiece of traditional anti-hot-flash hormone replacement therapy, because it has been shown to fan the fire of breast cancer. So to get relief, women often turn to the herbal supplement black cohosh. But the extent of chemical interplay in the body between black cohosh and tamoxifen isn't known, so a new study will determine whether, and what sort of, interactive effect there is between the two.

Tamoxifen use is quite common because the drug is used not only by women with breast cancer but by those prone to the disease, in whom it prevents about half of breast cancers. And many of those women have menopausal symptoms. "Hopefully, this study will provide evidence that black cohosh is safe to use for breast cancer patients," said Rachel Ruhlen, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

 "Currently, there is little reliable information guiding women in how they can use foods and botanical supplements to enhance their treatment or improve their quality of life." In her study, Ruhlen will use so-called ACI rats, which have a genetic proneness to developing breast cancer. Even though the experimental subjects are animals, there's a marked similarity between how the disease develops and progresses in them and in humans.

Other studies have identified a link between human breast cancer and lifetime exposure to estrogen. ACI rats are also sensitive to estrogen exposure. They respond, like humans, by developing breast tumors. Ruhlen has found in other work on ACI rats that tamoxifen reduces their mammary tumor mass by 89 percent.


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