Breast cancer drug 'can reduce the chance of getting disease by 50pc'
Experts are calling for a breast cancer drug to be made freely available as a preventative treatment after it was found to halve the likelihood of disease developing in vulnerable women.
Anastrozole, which belongs to a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors, blocks production of oestrogen. It has been used for years to treat post-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
Results from a major trial have now shown that taking the drug for five years can reduce the chances of high-risk women going on to develop breast cancer by 53pc.
Anastrozole was better at staving off breast cancer than tamoxifen, another hormone-suppressing drug already given as a preventative measure; and it had fewer side effects.
Experts are now recommending that the drug be used as a breast cancer prophylactic.
The drug is available in Ireland and doctors can currently prescribe it as a treatment for advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women. The dosage is 1mg daily.
Irish cancer specialists are due to examine the findings of the trial on its use as a preventative treatment and will assess if permission should be sought from the Irish Medicines Board to give it to suitable patients.
Trial leader Professor Jack Cuzick, head of Queen Mary University of London's centre for cancer prevention, said: "This research is an exciting development. Our priority now is ensuring that as many women as possible can benefit from these new findings. Prevention is an important tool in the fight against breast cancer."
The Ibis II trial, funded by Cancer Research UK, involved almost 4,000 post-menopausal women at high-risk of breast cancer. Half were given a one milligram dose of anastrozole daily for five years and half an inactive placebo.
During the five-year follow-up period, 40 women in the anastrozole group developed breast cancer compared with 85 of those in the placebo group.
Meanwhile, a separate study has suggested that exercise might help women beat breast cancer.
Researchers found it can ease the achy joints and muscle pain that lead many patients to quit taking medicines that treat the disease and lower the risk of a recurrence.
The study is the first major test of an exercise programme for women on aromatase inhibitors.
Despite how effective the drugs are, many women shun them because they can cause aches and pains, hot flushes and other side effects.
About 15pc of US women have enough risk to merit considering the pills, yet less than 5pc take them, said Dr Powel Brown, a prevention expert at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre.
The exercise study involved 121 postmenopausal women taking various aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer who complained of achy joints on a pain survey.
About half were assigned to two supervised strength training sessions a week plus at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. The rest got advice on the benefits of exercise and did their usual activities.
After a year, joint pain scores fell 20pc among exercisers and 3pc among the others.