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Breast cancer preventive drug call

A group of experts claims that to prevent the growth of tumours, healthy women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer should be given drugs.

The suggested action would be similar to the practice of providing patients who could develop heart disease with cholesterol-reducing statins.

Drugs that could offer preventive treatments for breast cancer include tamoxifen and raloxifene, which target the female hormone oestrogen.

The US has approved both drugs for use in preventing breast cancer, but approval has not been given in the UK.

Side-effects that can occur when being treated with tamoxifen include the risk of blood clots and womb cancer.

A consensus statement calling for change has been published in the journal The Lancet Oncology and is backed by 12 experts, led by Professor Jack Cuzick, from Queen Mary, University of London.

They wrote: "To keep the devastating impact of breast cancer to a minimum, especially in the developed countries where prevalence is presently the highest, preventive therapy needs to be integrated into wider strategies of risk reduction, including avoidance of obesity and increase in physical activity."

Four large tamoxifen trials had shown that preventive treatment with the drug reduced the incidence of hormone-sensitive breast cancer by 43%, the authors pointed out.

Crucially, a reduced risk of new tumours had been observed for several years after active treatment ended.

Meg McArthur, from the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "It is vital that we find effective ways to prevent breast cancer, especially in women with a high risk. However, as preventative therapy may have negative side-effects it would not be appropriate for everyone.

"We welcome studies investigating the best treatments to be used for breast cancer prevention. It's also crucial to identify those at high risk who would benefit the most from this form of therapy."

Copyright © Press Association 2011

The Lancet Oncology

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I think it is a very good idea, this way if the cancer cell will grow it will, at least, prevent it in growing fast and spreading to other parts of the body. But before giving it tests should be done thoroughly to avoid further complications on the patient part. What other disadvantages it will entail should be studied also" - Emily Alcantara, Philippines