Women with a family history of breast cancer could be given preventative medication on the NHS

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  • A consultation to decide whether tamoxifen should be given to high-risk women has begun

    Women in England and Wales with a strong family history of breast cancer could be offered preventative medication on the NHS for the first time.

    The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has begun a consultation to decide whether the drug tamoxifen could be given to women for a period of up to five years.

    If these draft guidelines are approved, they will be the first of their kind offered in the UK.

    Breast cancer is the UK’s most common cancer, with 50,000 women and 400 men being diagnosed with the disease annually.

    The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer has described the developments as an ‘exciting, historic step’.

    Experts believe that taking tamofixen for five years could cut their risk of developing the disease. They have estimated that for each 1,000 women on a course of tamoxifen, there would be 20 fewer breast cancers. However, they have warned this must be balanced with the risks associated with tamoxifen, which include blood clots.

    NICE have said there is currently insufficient provision for healthy but high-risk women, which includes women with a sister, mother or aunt who has been diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50.

    However they have said that under one per cent of women fall within the ‘high risk’ category, and that most women with a relative who has breast cancer are not at a substantially increased risk of developing the disease themselves.

    Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: ‘This draft guideline represents a historic step for the prevention of breast cancer – it is the first time drugs have ever been recommended for reducing breast cancer risk in the UK.’

    Tamoxifen, and a similar drug for breast cancer, raloxifene, are not licensed for use as preventative treatments in the UK, although they are in some other countries.


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