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Dublin: 22°C Thursday 7 July 2022

Longer use of breast cancer drug halves the risk of death

It is expected that this will be recommended from now on and as the drug is cheap and widely available, it could have an immediate impact.

Image: Breast cancer image via Shutterstock

A NEW STUDY by Cancer Research UK has shown that taking the drug tamoxifen for longer than the prescribed five years can half the risk of women dying from the most common form of breast cancer.

The drug is used for prevention of breast cancer in high risk women and as an after treatment for women who have had surgery or radiotherapy to help prevent recurrence.

Here the HSE recommends its use for five years but the new study shows that oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer patients taking tamoxifen for longer than the recommended five years are better protected against recurrence and are less likely to die from the disease.

The study looked at almost 7,000 women with breast cancer who, after five years taking the drug, either continued taking it for another five years ot stopped the treatment.

Among women who took tamoxifen for 10 years, 25 per cent fewer had recurrences of breast cancer and 23 per cent fewer died, compared to women who took the drug for just five years.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Rea said these results now establish that giving tamoxifen for longer than the current standard of five years “significantly cuts the risk of breast cancer returning”.

“Doctors are now likely to recommend continuing tamoxifen for an extra five years and this will result in many fewer breast cancer recurrences and breast cancer deaths worldwide,” he said. “Tamoxifen is cheap and widely available so this could have an immediate impact.”

The HSE notes that studies on longer use of the drug are taking place but said there is a concern about causing tumours after prolonged use. The drug can also have a number of side effects including hot flushes, blood clots, an increased risk of cancer in the uterus and stroke.

The study showed no increase in the incidence of stroke for women who took the drug for ten years though the risk of cancer in the lining of the uterus was increased. This disease, known as endometrial cancer, is often detected early when it can usually be treated successfully.

Researchers estimate that for every endometrial cancer death that occurs as a side effect of long-term tamoxifen, there would be 30 deaths from breast cancer prevented.

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