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A ‘repurposed’ drug that may prevent breast cancer, as well as treat it, is set to be offered to around 300,000 women.

Anastrozole has previously been used to treat breast cancer. However, recent trials have shown it can also stop the disease from occurring.

The drug could cut cases by 49 per cent over 11 years.

Nearly 300,000 pre-menopausal women who have a moderate risk of breast cancer will be offered the drug in England.

“It’s fantastic that this vital risk-reducing option could now help thousands of women and their families avoid the distress of a breast cancer diagnosis,” said NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard

“Allowing more women to live healthier lives, free of breast cancer is truly remarkable, and we hope that licensing anastrozole for a new use today represents the first step to ensuring this risk-reducing option can be accessed by all who could benefit from it.

“This is the first drug to be repurposed through a world-leading new programme to help us realise the full potential of existing medicines in new uses to save and improve more lives on the NHS.

“Thanks to this initiative, we hope that greater access to anastrozole could enable more women to take risk-reducing steps if they’d like to, helping them live without fear of breast cancer.”

Anastrozole was first put forward as a preventative treatment in 2017, however, the drug was unlicensed, so uptake was low.

Scientists have found that the effect of the drug can last for several years after the patient has stopped taking it.

Lesley-Ann Woodhams, 61, was offered anastrozole off-label for the prevention of breast cancer due to being at increased risk of developing the disease, and having a family history of breast cancer.

She completed the full five-year course of anastrozole in January 2023.

She said: “Taking anastrozole was an easy decision for me, as I’d watched my mum 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 giving a thought to what could be if I’d developed breast cancer.

“It really was a gift, it gave my family and myself peace of mind and more importantly, a continued future to look forward to.

“I’m grateful for every day I took this drug – it was life-changing. Anastrozole has allowed me to continue living my life as I’d planned.”

The drug is taken as a tablet, once a day, for five years and cuts the amount of oestrogen the body makes by blocking an enzyme.

Side effects of the drug include hot flushes, feeling weak, pain or stiffness in the joints, arthritis, a skin rash, nausea, headaches, osteoporosis and depression.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in England, with 47,000 women diagnosed annually.

Health Minister, Will Quince, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK so I’m delighted that another effective drug to help to prevent this cruel disease has now been approved.

“We’ve already seen the positive effect Anastrozole can have in treating the disease when it has been detected in post-menopausal women and now we can use it to stop it developing at all in some women.

“This is a great example of NHS England’s innovative Medicines Repurposing Programme supporting the development of new ways for NHS patients to benefit from existing treatments.”

The NHS says that the first symptom of breast cancer is often a lump or an area of thickened tissue in the breast.

Most of these are not cancerous, however, they should always be checked by a doctor.

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