(PatriotWise.com) — A medication that for years has been used to treat patients with breast cancer has now been licensed in the UK for use as a preventative, the BBC reported.
Anastrozole has been approved in the UK to treat women with a significant family history of breast cancer who have not themselves been diagnosed.
Recent clinical trials have shown that anastrozole can cut the incidence of breast cancer by nearly half in post-menopausal women with a moderate to high risk for the disease.
Cancer charities have described the drug as a “major step forward” in preventing breast cancer.
As many as 289,000 UK women could be eligible for the treatment, and according to NHS England, if only 25% of those women came forward, it could help to prevent 2,000 cases in England, saving the health service £15 million in breast cancer treatment costs.
Women who believe they have a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer can speak with their GP, who can refer them for a full risk assessment to see if they qualify for anastrozole.
Since anastrozole is an off-patent medication, the cost of the drug is low.
NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, told the BBC that anastrozole is a “very attractive” prospect for women with a high risk of breast cancer. He said the research suggests that the drug is more effective at protecting against the disease than the preventative treatment Tamoxifen, which has fewer side effects.
However, anastrozole does have side effects, most of which resemble the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, headaches, depression, weakness, stiff joints, and osteoporosis.
The medication works by blocking the enzyme aromatase to reduce estrogen. The treatment is one tablet a day for five years.
According to NHS England, the effect of anastrozole continues to last years after a patient stops taking the drug.
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