A study published in the US peer-reviewed journal Cancer says that tamoxifen, a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer, may also help reduce the risk of death from lung cancer.
Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen. Previous studies have shown that women undergoing hormone replacement therapy to boost estrogen during menopause showed an increased risk of dying from lung cancer.
Based on the hypothesis that blocking estrogen might also cut lung cancer death risk, researchers examined data from 6,655 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1980 and 2003 in Switzerland's Geneva Cancer Registry.
Close to half of those women, 3,066 (46 percent), were given anti-estrogen drugs.
The registry's Elisabetta Rapiti, lead author of the study in Cancer, followed all those subjects until December 2007 and looked at how many developed lung cancer and how many died from lung cancer.
Rapiti found that among those taking anti-estrogen drugs, there were 87 percent fewer deaths from lung cancer when compared to the general population.
When she looked simply at how many women in the study were diagnosed with lung cancer, she found no significant difference between those taking anti-estrogen therapy and those who were not.
"Our results support the hypothesis that there is a hormonal influence on lung cancer which has been suggested by findings such as the presence of estrogen and progesterone receptors in a substantial proportion of lung cancers," said Rapiti.
"If prospective studies confirm our results and find that anti-estrogen agents improve lung cancer outcomes, this could have substantial implications for clinical practice," she added.