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Breast cancer 'warded off' by cheap pills

Breast cancer 'warded off' by cheap pills

Women with the most common type of breast cancer can reduce their chance of the disease returning by staying on drugs for 10 years, a new study has found.

Research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago detailed how prescribing cheap pills - aromatase inhibitors (AIs) - for an extended period of time can slash the risk of ‘oestrogen positive’ breast cancer coming back by a third.

Nearly 2,000 patients were looked into and those who took the affordable medication for five extra years saw the protective effects boost, with women 34 per cent less likely to have a recurrence and a fifth less at risk of fatality.

Aromatase inhibitors, which cost around 10 pence a day, come in two main forms; letrozole, commonly known by the brand name Femara, and anastrozole, or Arimidex. They do have some negative side effects though, including hot flushes and trouble sleeping. Because of this, patients may find themselves stopping the pills before the first five years, resulting in risks not being lowered.

"It will help tens of thousands of women," Dr Paul Goss, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said. "This will markedly reduce fatal recurrences and recurrences in general in breast cancer patients. It should therefore become the new standard of care."

Further research has stressed the importance of discussing these side effects with patients before advising them to take drugs for a long period so they know what to expect. Dr Harold Bernstein, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, hopes the findings will help women understand their options better.

"In general I would think that women who had riskier cancers - higher stage, more nodal involvement would look to these data and think they are compelling for continuing longer durations of treatment out to ten or 15 years," Dr Bernstein added.

"For millions of women around the world these data will support the practice of anti-oestrogen therapy (aromatase inhibitors) which will reduce the risk of their cancer coming back."

'Oestrogen positive’ breast cancer affects 40,000 women in the U.K., with breast cancer the most common form of the disease in females worldwide. Almost 1.7 million new cases were diagnosed alone in 2012, according to World Cancer Research Fund.

The findings were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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