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Breast drugs key to cancer success - researchers

Friday July 29th, 2011

Two major studies today suggest that breast cancer drugs are proving more effective than had been hoped in saving the lives of thousands of women.

One European study suggests, controversially, that breast screening has had little to do with improve survival.

A second study by a UK-based team of researchers has found that the benefits of the drug tamoxifen continue for many women for at least ten years after they stop taking it.

The study in The Lancet concludes that taking the drug cuts the long term risk of dying from the disease by at least a third. The findings apply to women with a common form of the cancer linked to hormones and known as oestrogen-receptor positive.

Researchers said that even when the hormonal link was weak, tamoxifen had major success.

The study found the benefits were achieved when women had taken a full five year course of tamoxifen daily.

The conclusions come from an analysis of studies around the world involving some 20,000 women with early breast cancer. Most of these had begun in the 1980s.

Researcher Dr Christina Davies, of Oxford University, UK, said: "Breast cancer is a nasty disease because it can come back years later. This study now shows that tamoxifen produces really long-term protection.

"Tamoxifen was developed 50 years ago and is long out of patent, but even if costs are ignored it remains a major first-line treatment option, especially for women whose ovaries are still functioning."

The second study, in the British Medical Journal, seeks to analyse the impact of breast screening programmes on disease death rates across Europe.

Researchers from the UK, France and Norway worked on the project. Researchers compared similar countries with different programmes: Norway and Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium and the Republic of Ireland against Northern Ireland, in the UK.

The biggest difference in reductions in deaths over a 17-year period was between Sweden and Norway. In Sweden, with nationwide screening by 1997, deaths fell by 16 per cent. In Norway, where screening did not cover the whole country until 2005, deaths fell by 24 per cent.

* Meanwhile a Spanish study reported today provides critical new insights into the way that the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 work.

Javier Benitez, of the Human Genetics Group of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, finds progressive shortening in these women of the telomeres, the part of the DNA that is closely linked to age.

The research is reported in PLoS Genetics.

The Lancet July 29 2011

The British Medical Journal July 29 2011

Genetic Anticipation Is Associated with Telomere Shortening in Hereditary Breast Cancer. Martinez-Delgado B, Yanowsky K, Inglada-Perez L, Domingo S,Urioste M, et al PLoS Genet 7(7): e1002182. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002182

Tags: Cancer | Europe | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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