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Pre-emptive drug halves breast cancer risk, study shows

Giving a breast cancer drug to high-risk post-menopausal women for five years more than halved their chances of developing the disease, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings could lead to anastrozole being offered as an alternative to tamoxifen.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London, saw nearly 2,000 high-risk post-menopausal women given a daily dose of anastrozole, with the same number taking a placebo.

Over the next five years 85 women in the placebo group developed breast cancer compared with just 40 of those who took 1mg of anastrozole, a drug that works by stopping the body making oestrogen - a hormone that fuels many breast cancers.

Lead researcher Professor Jack Cuzik, head of the university’s centre for cancer prevention, said the findings represented an “exciting development” for breast cancer prevention.

He said: “We now know anastrozole should be the drug of choice when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women with a family history or other risk factors for the disease. This class of drugs is more effective than previous drugs such as tamoxifen and crucially, it has fewer side effects.”

Professor Cuzik said although aches and pains have often been linked with oestrogen-depriving drugs, the women on anastrozole had reported only slightly more side effects than those taking the placebo.

He added: “This means most symptoms were not drug related, and the concern about side effects for this type of drug may have been overstated in the past.”

Women are said to be at high risk of breast cancer if they have two or more blood relatives with the disease, have a mother or sister who developed it before they were 50 or in both breasts, or have specific types of benign breast disease.

 

 

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