Chemoprevention Guidelines From Canada

Chemoprevention of breast cancer: A joint guideline from the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care and the Canadian Breast Cancer Initiative's Steering Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Care and Treatment of Breast Cancer [06/12/2001; Canadian Medical Association Journal]

Objective: To assist women and their physicians in making decisions regarding the prevention of breast cancer with tamoxifen and raloxifene.


Women at low or normal risk of breast cancer (Gail risk assessment index <1.66% at 5 years): There is fair evidence to recommend against the use of tamoxifen to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at low or normal risk of the disease (grade D recommendation).

Women at higher risk of breast cancer (Gail index 1.66% at 5 years): Evidence supports counselling women at high risk on the potential benefits and harms of breast cancer prevention with tamoxifen (grade B recommendation). The cutoff for defining high risk is arbitrary, but the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project P-1 Study included women with a 5-year projected risk of at least 1.66% according to the Gail index, and the average risk of patients entered in the trial was 3.2%.

Examples of high-risk clinical situations are 2 first-degree relatives with breast cancer, a history of lobular carcinoma in situ or a history of atypical hyperplasia. As the risk of breast cancer increases above 5% and the benefits outweigh the harms, a woman may choose to take tamoxifen.

The duration of tamoxifen use in such situations is 5 years based on the results from trials of tamoxifen involving women with early breast cancer. If a woman raises concerns or has already been evaluated and is calculated to be at high risk, then individuals experienced and skilled in counselling may discuss the potential benefits and harms of tamoxifen use.

Important additional issues:

Prevention of breast cancer with raloxifene: Current evidence does not support recommending chemoprevention of breast cancer with raloxifene outside of a clinical trial setting.

Screening using the Gail risk assessment index: This index was the main eligibility criterion for enrolling women in the one study that showed potential benefit from chemoprevention.

However, it has not been evaluated for use as a routine screening or case-finding instrument; validation of the index is required. Overall, current evidence does not support a shift to its routine use in physicians' offices for screening or case finding. However, when a woman or her physician is concerned about the woman's increased risk of breast cancer, the index can be a useful tool in deciding whether to pursue an in-depth discussion of the potential benefits and harms of chemoprevention.

Hence, the approach to identifying women at higher risk who warrant counselling and shared decision-making will vary across practices. (The risk assessment index is available online.

Validation: The authors' original text was revised by both the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care and the Steering Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Care and Treatment of Breast Cancer. The final document reflects a consensus of these contributors.

Britain's Dept of Health Says No to Tamoxifen in Healthy Women

Committee on Safety of Medicines, 11/02

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