Health: Breast cancer preventative for British women

In the future, around 290,000 women in Great Britain could take a preventive drug against breast cancer.

Health: Breast cancer preventative for British women

In the future, around 290,000 women in Great Britain could take a preventive drug against breast cancer. The target group for Anastrozole are women after menopause who are considered to be at medium or high risk of breast cancer, said the British health service NHS.

The German Cancer Research Center DKFZ said that no drug has yet been approved in Germany to prevent breast cancer. However, anastrozole and other agents could be used for this purpose in exceptional cases. The Gynecological Oncology Working Group (AGO) recommends preventive drug therapy to women with an increased risk of breast cancer in certain cases and after carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages. The corresponding medications included tamoxifen, raloxifene and aromatase inhibitors such as the aforementioned anastrozole (as of March 2023).

According to the DKFZ, treatment is then carried out as an “off-label” application, which is subject to the doctor’s special obligations to provide information and care. There is no entitlement to reimbursement of costs by statutory health insurance companies. There is currently a controversy among experts as to which women have an "increased" risk of breast cancer and may benefit from such preventative treatment. There is no uniform definition for it.

Tamoxifen can be used to reduce risk before and after menopause, while raloxifene and aromatase inhibitors can only be used after menopause. According to the DKFZ, all three primarily reduced the number of new cases of certain hormone-sensitive carcinomas (estrogen receptor-positive) in prevention studies.

According to the UK NHS, tests have shown that anastrozole reduces the number of breast cancer cases by around half over 11 years. It is estimated that 2,000 illnesses could be avoided if a quarter of eligible women took advantage of the offer and half of them took the drug over the proposed period of five years, it said.

Tablet not without possible side effects

Scientists have found that anastrozole not only helps treat breast cancer, but also prevents the disease. The protective effect lasts for years even after the drug is stopped. "It's fantastic that this vital risk-reduction option could now help thousands of women and their families avoid the stress of a breast cancer diagnosis," said NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard. Breast cancer is diagnosed in around 47,000 women in the UK every year.

The medication should be taken as a tablet daily for five years. According to the NHS, Anastrozole works by reducing the amount of the hormone estrogen a patient's body produces by blocking an enzyme called aromatase. Side effects can include hot flashes, joint pain, arthritis, rash, nausea, headaches, osteoporosis and depression.

The DKFZ emphasizes that the effects of drug prevention should be compared to those of a healthy lifestyle: the risk of breast cancer can be reduced in particular through regular exercise, avoiding obesity, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and by avoiding hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen/progesterone during menopause significantly and without side effects.