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Breast Cancer Drug can Help Some Women get Pregnant

Update Date: Jul 10, 2014 02:53 PM EDT

Women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) tend to have fertility issues. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of a breast cancer drug, letrozole, on women with PCOS. The team headed by Penn State College of Medicine discovered that letrozole is more effective than the current infertility treatment drug in getting women with PCOS pregnant.

According to the background information provided for by the study, PCOS is the most common cause of infertility problems in women and the condition affects five to 10 percent of women who are of childbearing age. PCOS is caused by the overproduction of a hormone called androgen. Symptoms include an infrequent menstrual cycle, development of small cysts on the ovaries and infertility.

For this study, the researchers compared the current infertility treatment drug called clomiphene citrate to letrozole in 750 women with PCOS who were having difficulties conceiving. The women were between the ages of 18 and 40. They were randomly assigned one of the two drugs, which they took in increasing dosages for up to five cycles. Clomiphene citrate works by stimulation ovulation whereas letrozole works by blocking the production of estrogen.

The researchers found that the live birth rate for the women in the letrozole group was 27.5 percent. The rate for the women in the other group was a lot lower at 19.1 percent. The researchers also found that women taking letrozole had higher ovulation rates in comparison to women who took clomiphene. Women in the letrozole had a lower incidence rate for twin pregnancies at just 3.9 percent. Overall, the researchers concluded that letrozole was more effective as an infertility treatment for women with PCOS.

"Clomiphine has its drawbacks," said Richard Legro, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and lead author on the study reported by Medical Xpress. "It's only 22 percent successful with up to six cycles of treatment in producing a successful birth, it has a high multiple-pregnancy rate in comparison to unassisted conception, and it has side effects including hot flashes and mood changes."

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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