The average woman has a one-in-three chance of developing cancer, due to advanced age or poor lifestyle, but anyone who has an inherited cancer gene (such as the BRCA2 gene, which affected Liberty X singer, Michelle Heaton) has a much greater risk and will often opt for preventative surgery.
While effective, a mastectomy can be traumatic — but a new treatment might cut the risk of developing cancer by up to 70%.
In Britain, 136 healthy women are participating in a drugs trial at the Genesis Prevention Centre in Manchester. By taking a daily dose of Tamoxifen for five years, it is hoped that for these women, who have a family history of breast cancer, the disease could be delayed or even prevented.
The programme is supported by The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which suggested women at risk of developing breast cancer should be offered the powerful preventative drugs, Raloxifene or Tamoxifen.
Professor Tony Howell, research director at Genesis, said: ‘The first patient to be treated with Tamoxifen was treated at The Christie in 1969, so Manchester has a long history of leading the way in breast cancer research and treatments.
“Our studies have shown that it can help to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 70% in some women, so I welcome with open arms the draft guidance by NICE.”
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. “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 says.
Irish Cancer Society cancer information services manager, Naomi Fitzgibbon, agrees and says it could be a positive new step in the fight against breast cancer.
“This is an exciting new development for a specific group of people who have an increased risk of developing a hereditary type of breast cancer,” she says.
“At the ICS, we welcome any research into this type of cancer and look forward to more developments of this kind.
“If anyone has any concerns about hereditary breast cancer, or any type of cancer, please contact their doctor or the National Cancer Helpline.”
* For more information visit www.cancer.ie or call 1800-200700.