Breast Cancer: preventative measures could be taken for women at ‘high risk’

By Laura Moulden

Women with a significant familial history of breast cancer could be offered preventative treatment on the NHS.

Draft guidelines drawn up by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) will investigate whether the drug tamoxifen should be prescribed for women with a high risk of developing the disease.

Chris Askew, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, welcomed the “historic step”, saying:

“An update to this guideline is long overdue and we’re especially pleased it has been extended to include both women who have had breast cancer, and men, for the first time.”

Previous clinical trials found that when administered for a period of five years, tamoxifen reduced the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by about 50% in post-menopausal women who were at increased risk of contracting the disease.

Of around 46,000 women in the UK who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, approximately one in five has a significant family history of the illness. Known ‘breast cancer genes’ BRCA1 and BRCA2 are accountable for around 2,400 of such cases, and a further 4,800 to 7,200 people each year are believed to be affected by other genetic factors linked to breast cancer.

Final NICE guidelines are expected this summer and if approved will challenge the NHS to deliver on its recommendations, including increases to the availability of genetic testing.

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