Women in the UK who are at higher risk of breast cancer after menopause may soon have wider access to a drug called anastrozole to reduce the chances of developing it.
The drug, which is taken as tablets and was first developed as a treatment for breast cancer, halves the risk of the condition if taken for five years.
Anastrozole may already be used for prevention in people without breast cancer on an “off label” basis in many countries, including the US, but at low doses. Now Britain has become the first country where it has been approved for its prevention.
Jack Cuzick of Queen Mary University of London, who was involved in the anastrozole trial, says this should encourage more family doctors to prescribe the drug. “This will help doctors and women realize that it is accepted [use] And the benefits outweigh the risks.”
But anastrozole’s side effects – which are similar to severe menopause symptoms, such as joint pain and hot flushes – may put people off taking it, says UK breast cancer surgeon Liz O’Riordan, who has taken the drug herself. “It can be really hard.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on 6 November that women would be eligible to take anastrozole if they were at moderate or high risk of breast cancer.
The agency has not yet How this risk level will be defined is yet to be announced, but it could include at least one close relative, such as a mother or sister, who was diagnosed with the condition.
Anastrozole is not the only drug that can be used for breast cancer prevention. Another that is sometimes used is called tamoxifen, which can cause menopause-like side effects, as well as increase the risk of blood clots.
Both drugs work by blocking the female sex hormone estrogen, which promotes the growth of breast cancer cells. Due to their different mechanisms of action, anastrozole can only be taken by women after going through menopause, while tamoxifen can be taken regardless of age.
Women can reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by having mammogram screenings more often and having these scans at an earlier age. For example, if women have a higher risk of breast cancer because they inherited a mutation in the gene brca 1They may choose to have their breasts surgically removed.
Dana Gheorghe at global pharmaceutical intelligence firm Sightline says the addition of another option for women to reduce their risk is welcome. “If people are willing to accept the side effects, it’s a good approach.”