New Weapon In Breast Cancer Fight?

Dee Dee Witman glows with good health. She eats well and exercises.
But when she looks at the statistics about breast cancer for women her age, she gets nervous.

Getting breast cancer, she says, is one of her biggest health fears.

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, one in 37 women in their 50s are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. But Witman, whose aunt had the disease, is determined to fight those odds by taking part in a controversial drug trial designed to prevent healthy women from getting breast cancer.

Once a day she takes a drug called Exemestane, one of a new class of drugs that block the production of the hormone estrogen, a leading culprit in the development of breast cancer.

Dr. Paul Goss is heading up the trial.

"By interfering with the production of estrogen you are basically removing the principal fertilizer that enables breast cancer to get going," says Goss of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Goss and his colleagues will be testing Exemestane in about 5,000 women like Witman over the next five years.

Goss is a huge believer in its powers. Other studies show it can prevent recurrence of breast cancer.

He says even if it delays the development of cancer by ten years, it will be a huge advance.

But giving a powerful drug to perfectly healthy women? Not so fast say many critics of the study.

Barbara Brenner is the director of Breast Cancer Action, a group that would do just about anything to wipe breast cancer off the face of the Earth, but not at the expense of healthy women.

"There's no drug powerful enough to prevent breast cancer that won't cause other diseases at the same time," says Brenner.

Brenner has many questions: Will women have to take this drug their whole lives? What about side effects such as increased risk of osteoporosis and long term safety?

Witman is willing to put her health on the line to get answers for several reasons.

"I have two daughters (and) five nieces, (and) if there's anything within reason that we can do to put an end to this, then so be it," she says.

For her, its worth taking risks if it means breast cancer won't always be that nagging worry in the back of every woman's mind.