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NICE recommend breast cancer drugs for at-risk women

Hundreds of thousands of women across England and Wales can now receive a pill on the NHS to help prevent the disease.

Updated guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says the NHS should give tamoxifen or raloxifene to particular groups of women with a family history of cancer because the drugs can help stop them getting breast cancer if they are taken for five years.

Roughly 50,000 women and 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, making it the most common cancer in the country.

Of these breast cancer cases, one in five will be associated with a family history of the disease while hundreds of thousands of otherwise healthy people will be at risk of developing the disease because it runs in their family.

Professor Mark Baker, Director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE, said: “People are considered to have a family history of cancer if a number of their relatives have lived through, or died from, certain cancers like breast, ovarian or prostate.

“Currently, if someone has a family history of cancer, there are two options available to them. If they are tested and are found to have a genetic reason for their family's cancer history, they may be eligible for annual screening so that any tumour will be detected early on. Or, they can opt for surgery to remove their breasts.

“Our updated guideline now gives women more options in how they manage their risk of breast cancer; those with a 'moderate' or 'high' risk of developing breast cancer because of their family history but who have not had the disease themselves can now be offered tamoxifen or raloxifene for five years to prevent it.

"Although neither drug is licensed as a preventative treatment in the UK, clinical evidence shows they are an effective option for many women and could be preferable to surgery.”