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Drugs 'can prevent mastectomy'

Breast cancer victims can avoid having one or both of their breasts removed by taking oestrogen-lowering drugs, research has shown.

Oestrogen fuels most breast cancers but drugs called aromatase inhibitors can shrink tumours and reduce rates of breast removal by suppressing the supply of the female hormone, according to a study carried out by Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.

The drugs are taken at the early stages of treatment in the hope that they will reduce the need for major surgery. However, they only work on women who have been through the menopause because their oestrogen levels drop significantly as a result of their ovaries no longer producing the hormone.

The study found that of 159 women who had already been told they required a mastectomy, 81 were able to have breast-conserving surgery instead after 16 weeks of treatment.

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.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

Journal of Clinical Oncology