Hundreds of thousands of women at risk of breast cancer will be offered a drug to reduce their chances of developing the disease, NHS officials have announced.
Traditionally, anastrozole has been used as a treatment for women suffering from breast cancer.
But trials have found that hormone therapy can also cut a woman’s chances of developing it in half.
The NHS will offer it as a preventive measure to 289,000 women considered at moderate or high risk of breast cancer.
Traditionally, anastrozole has been used as a treatment for women suffering from breast cancer. But trials have found that hormone therapy can also cut a woman’s chances of developing it in half.
Officials estimate that if a quarter of eligible women in England took up the offer, 2,000 cases could be prevented and the NHS saved £15 million in treatment costs.
Lesley-Ann Woodhams, 61, from Flixton, Greater Manchester, was offered anastrozole for breast cancer prevention due to a family history of breast cancer, and completed the five-year treatment in January.
She said: “Taking anastrozole was an easy decision for me as I had seen my mother battle breast cancer and my risk was very high.”
‘Anastrozole reduced my risk of developing breast cancer, meaning I could live a life without constantly worrying or thinking about what might happen if I had developed breast cancer.
‘It truly was a gift, it gave my family and I peace of mind and, most importantly, a continued future to look forward to. I am grateful for every day I took this medication; It changed my life. Anastrozole has allowed me to continue living my life as I had planned.’
Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in England, with 47,000 people diagnosed each year.
Advances in screening, treatment and care mean that more women than ever are surviving the disease.
The once-daily tablet works by reducing the amount of the hormone estrogen a patient’s body produces by blocking an enzyme called aromatase.
First recommended by NICE as a preventive treatment in 2017, uptake was low as it was not authorized for this use.
Now regulators, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), have approved it as a preventive option for postmenopausal women, making it the first medicine to be repurposed through an NHS programme.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with almost 56,000 cases diagnosed each year.
It now joins tamoxifen and raloxifene, which are already authorized to prevent breast cancer.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “It is fantastic that this vital risk-reducing option can now help thousands of women and their families avoid the distress of a breast cancer diagnosis.”
“Enabling more women to live healthier, breast cancer-free lives is truly extraordinary, and we hope that licensing anastrozole for a new use today represents the first step in ensuring that everyone who can benefit from it can access this risk reduction option.
‘This is the first drug repurposed through a new world-leading program to help us harness the full potential of existing medicines into new uses to save and improve more lives in the NHS.
“Through this initiative, we hope that greater access to anastrozole will allow more women to take steps to reduce their risk if they choose, helping them live without fear of breast cancer.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: “Extending the license of anastrozole to cover its use as a risk-reducing treatment is an important step forward which will allow more eligible women with a significant family history to of breast cancer cancer to reduce your chances of developing the disease.’
Anastrozole is cheap: it costs around four pence a day per patient. The most common side effects of the medication are hot flashes, feeling weak, joint pain/stiffness, arthritis, rash, nausea, headache, osteoporosis, and depression.
Created in 2021 by NHS England, DHSC, MHRA and NICE, the Medicines Repurposing Program is designed to see if existing medicines can be used to successfully treat or prevent other conditions.
It builds on the successes of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which tocilizumab, an arthritis drug, and dexamethasone, a widely available steroid, were repurposed as treatments for COVID-19.
Health Minister Will Quince said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, so I am delighted that another effective drug has been approved to help prevent this cruel disease.”
‘We have already seen the positive effect that anastrozole can have in treating the disease when detected in postmenopausal women and we can now use it to stop its development in some women.
“This is a great example of NHS England’s innovative Medicines Repurposing Program which supports the development of new ways for NHS patients to benefit from existing treatments.”