War on breast cancer boosted

MARK NICHOLLS Thousands of women will today be given new hope in their fight against breast cancer after a proven treatment was made more widely available.


Thousands of women will today be given new hope in their fight against breast cancer after a proven treatment was made more widely available.

The drug Arimidex is regarded as more effective than the 30-year-old treatment Tamoxifen, it does not carry the same level of side effects and looks set to give better protection against any recurrence of breast cancer.

Until now, it had only been licensed for use directly after breast cancer surgery in recently-diagnosed women.

But from today, thanks to a new licence granted by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, it will be available to women who have already had a partial course of Tamoxifen.

The drug is already offered to some patients in Norfolk, but that can now be extended.

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Simon Pain, consultant breast surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said last night: "This is another step forward. This drug is another addition to what is available and improves the options that we already have for treating women.

"The new drug has been around for a while but there is evidence that it is a bit better than Tamoxifen, which has been an excellent drug but, in general, patients prefer taking this one as the side effects are more manageable."

Earlier this year, the N&N led the way in the region after clinching a ground-breaking deal with primary care trusts (PCTs) to prescribe the revolutionary drug Herceptin which targets the HER2 protein that fuels breast cancer in some women.

In June, the NHS drug watchdog NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) formally ruled that women with early stage breast cancer should be able to receive Herceptin.

Of the arimidex ruling, Mr Pain said: "It is a positive step forward for women in this region but we are very lucky, we are very up to date with the treatments we offer.

"The PCTs have been forthcoming with funding here and are aware of the need to make advances in the way we treat women. Women in Norfolk do get a great deal in this respect."

The ruling means that thousands of post-menopausal women with early breast cancer, who have been taking tamoxifen, will now have the opportunity to change to arimidex, which is regarded as a more effective treatment and will improve their chance of living longer, cancer free.

Research shows that arimidex reduces the risk of breast cancer returning anywhere in the body by an additional 26pc compared with tamoxifen.

Arimidex belongs to a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and works in a different way from tamoxifen by blocking aromatase and reducing the amount of oestrogen in the body, which in turn stops or slows down the growth of cancer.

Arimidex can be used in postmenopausal women who are known to be hormone receptor-positive (HR+), which includes a majority of women with breast cancer.

Dr Emma Pennery, Nurse Consultant for Breast Cancer Care said: "Many of the women with early-stage breast cancer that we support tell us they are extremely fearful of the possibility of their breast cancer returning over time. They will be extremely pleased to hear of this latest addition to the range of treatment options currently available, which has the potential to save more lives."

Pamela Goldberg, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Campaign welcomed the move and said: "Research into breast cancer is at an exciting stage and treatment options for breast cancer are continuing to be improved."

Women who have put on weight as they get older are at greater risk of getting breast cancer after the menopause, according to a new US study.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that women who gained about 55lb or more after the age of 18 were at a 45pc increased risk of developing the disease compared with those who maintained their weight. Women who put on about 22lb or more after the menopause were at an 18pc increased risk.