By Jane Nambi
A drug has been discovered to have the ability to prevent women from attaining breast cancer for up to 20 years.
Tamoxifen has the capability of offering as much as 20 years of protection to women who have a high risk of catching breast cancer. It will also help those who have a ‘moderate’ risk of attaining the disease in the next ten years. The discovery has been hailed as an ‘historic step’ in the treatment of breast cancer.
Tamoxifen has been used to treat the illness for more than 30 years although newer drugs are proving even more effective. International trials proved it could reduce the risk of the most common kind of breast cancer by one-third after five years, with the preventative effect lasting up to 20 years.
Women would take the drugs for five years either before or after the menopause. Women at higher than average risk of getting the cancer should be offered surveillance at a younger age to detect the disease earlier. Almost 50,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer and around 2,400 have inherited faults in known breast cancer genes while a further 5,000-7,000 are affected by genes not yet identified.
Women with faulty genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 are among those at high risk, accounting for at least 4 per cent of all women.
Breast cancer specialist Professor Michael Baum said the drugs were a ‘reasonable option’ for women at high risk because of evidence that they cut the death rate. “I don’t think women or doctors will be deterred from using them by the lack of a licence. Nice’s support for preventive drugs could encourage clinicians, it will give them more confidence when talking to women at high risk about their options,” he said.