breast cancer drug

Oestrogen-blocking drug could reduce breast cancer deaths

A drug used to tackle breast cancer by supressing oestrogen production could cut the risk of premature death by 40%, a new study claims.

The drugs, known as aromatase inhibitors, can halt breast cancer tumours’ oestrogen-fuelled growth.

The drug is currently used as a way to stop cancers recurring, but it is hoped the new research could lead to new clinical guidelines on prescribing the inhibitors to postmenopausal women with breast cancer. 

Blocking hormones

The aromatase inhibitors can be used on postmenopausal women with the most common type of breast cancer - hormone-sensitive (ER-positive).

The study analysed data from 9 clinical trials involving over 30,000 women.

Those who took aromatase inhibitors for 5 years reduced their risk of dying from hormone-sensitive (ER-positive) breast cancer within 10 years by 40%, compared with women taking no treatment.

A similar drug called tamoxifen, which blocks oestrogen’s facility to connect to molecules on cancer cells, but doesn’t actually inhibit oestrogen production, lowered death rates by 30%.

 

Tiny amounts of oestrogen

Only tiny amounts of oestrogen remain in the systems of postmenopausal women.

But lead scientist Professor Mitch Dowsett, from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, says this is enough to have a ‘substantial impact’.

He does warn, though, aromatase inhibitor treatment is not side-effect free. He is calling for women who experience significant side-effects from it to be supported so they can continue with the treatment.

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, says this study makes sense of decades of data and gives a firm basis for clinical guidelines.

While he admits new discoveries grab the headlines, he says studies like this one are equally important.

The research was featured in The Lancet medical journal.


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