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Tuesday, April 7, 1998 Published at 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK


Drug cuts breast cancer rate for women at risk

Scientists in the United States are claiming a significant advance in preventing breast cancer. For the first time, a drug has been found that may prevent the disease. This report is from our science correspondent David Whitehouse.

The United States National Cancer Institute has said that its six-year study involving 13,000 women showed that taking Tamoxifen cut cancer deaths by nearly a half in women who were considered to be at risk of the disease.

The drug has been used for nearly 20 years to treat patients with advanced breast cancer. But this latest research suggests Tamoxifen has a much wider role to play in combating the disease.

Reasons for being at risk include a family history of the disease, pre-cancerous breast lesions or being over 60-years-old.

Tamoxifen works by preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing. It interferes with the action of the hormone estrogen which cancer cells need to grow.

However, there may be side effects. Tamoxifen has been associated with a slightly increased risk of cancer of the uterine lining and with blood clots in the lungs.

Some scientists have said that taking Tamoxifen is worth it. Others have called for further studies to be carried out.

In Britain, a similar study into the effects of Tamoxifen is being carried out jointly by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Cancer Research Campaign. It involves 3,500 women and is not yet complete.

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