Oestrogen-lowering drugs can be used to spare women with breast cancer from the emotional and physical trauma of mastectomies, according to research.
Aromatase inhibitors have been found to not only shrink tumours but also reduce rates of breast removal in a recent study.
Following a 16-week course of treatment 81 out of 159 women who had been told they needed a mastectomy were able to have breast-conserving surgery instead.
Study leader Dr Matthew Ellis, from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, said: “At the beginning, all of these patients were going to get mastectomy and at the end of the trial only half got mastectomy.
“That’s a very substantial improvement in surgical outcomes.”
The medication blocks the supplies of the female hormone oestrogen which fuels most breast cancers.
Healthcare professionals tend to prescribe the treatments early on in the hope of reducing the need for major surgery further down the line.
Aromatase inhibitors only work in post-menopausal women who no longer produce oestrogen from their ovaries and use the enzyme aromatase to make the hormone.
The US research focused on women with stage two to three breast cancer, meaning the disease was moderately advanced.
A total of 352 women were randomly assigned to receive one of three approved aromatase inhibitors, letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.