Access to generic aromatase inhibitors (AIs) improves the chances that breast cancer patients will stick with their drug treatment, according to research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study included 5,511 women. All were 50 years of age or older and had early-stage breast cancer that was hormone receptor-positive. The women in the study all had surgery to remove their breast cancer. After surgery, they were prescribed AIs.

Even though AIs significantly reduce the risk of disease recurrence in patients with this type of breast cancer, many women don’t take their medications as directed, the researchers said.

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The patients in the study were followed for two years. The investigators found that women who took generic AIs were 50 percent more likely to adhere to their drug therapy than those who took brand-name AIs.

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“Our findings suggest that more effort should be made to reduce out-of-pocket costs for these potentially life-saving medications. This is especially important given the rapid increase of expensive oral cancer therapies,” study leader Dawn Hershman, M.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in a hospital news release.

“Cost is not the only reason. But it can intensify other factors such as side effects. Up to 40 percent of women taking AIs experience joint stiffness. If you add a high copayment to the mix, that’s often enough to make them discontinue therapy.”


  1. Hershman, Dawn L., et al. “The Change From Brand-Name to Generic Aromatase Inhibitors and Hormone Therapy Adherence for Early-Stage Breast Cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju319. August 22, 2014.