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Breast Cancer Prevention

A new study suggests it may be possible to determine in advance which women will benefit most from taking the drug Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer.

The study, conducted during the 1990s, showed that Tamoxifen could lower the risk of breast cancer in women who were at high risk for the disease. But Tamoxifen comes with some potentially dangerous side effects, leading some to question the value of giving it to healthy women who don't have breast cancer as a way to prevent the disease.

The new study may change that, NPR's Joe Palca reports. It re-analyzed data from a large study conducted in Italy of women who took Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer. By looking at factors such as a woman's height, the number of children she had, and the age she started menstruation, the researchers found a subset of women most likely to benefit from Tamoxifen. The results appear in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.

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