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New option for preventing breast cancer


breast-cancer-ribbonDrugs currently used to treat breast cancer may now be approved for preventative use.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently published a draft update to its guidance on familial breast cancer.

The final guidance is likely to include the recommendation that all women over 30 with a moderate or high risk of breast cancer be offered preventative drugs.

Breast cancer charities welcomed the announcement, with Chris Askew, the chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, calling it “a historic step”.

“It is the first time drugs have ever been recommended for reducing breast cancer risk in the UK.”

One of the drugs that would form part of the preventative care, tamoxifen, is already in use in the UK as a breast cancer treatment.

The other drug, raloxifene, is used currently to prevent osteoporosis, the condition of brittle bones.

As far back as March 2011, cancer experts were calling for the preventative use of breast cancer drugs, saying that “the evidence for them is overwhelming.”

To balance the increased risk of womb cancer, blood clots and stroke associated with the use of tamoxifen, experts have agreed that certain conditions need to be met for the drug to be prescribed. The drug will be offered to women with a four per cent or higher chance of developing breast cancer in the next ten years.

Tamoxifen is already used as a preventive measure in other countries, including the USA.

If the NICE guidance is adopted, nearly 550,000 women in the UK would become eligible for the drugs.

The update would produce two historic firsts by shifting the focus of care from treatment to prevention and by including men among those eligible for the care.

It would also provide women at high risk of developing the disease an alternative to a double mastectomy, the procedure that involves removing both breasts in order to reduce risk.

The proposed changes may become even more significant following publication of research suggesting that women should be taking tamoxifen for twice as long as is currently prescribed when used as a treatment for breast cancer.

The NICE consultation on the draft update is open to contributions until 25 February 2013.

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