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Anastrozole finally recognised by NHS for breast cancer prevention

Supported by the UK’s Medicines Repurposing Programme, one drug that has long been used in the fight against breast cancer has just been recognised by the NHS as an official treatment option. 

Some of the world’s most incredible drug discoveries have occurred by accident, with ‘repurposed’ drugs being used throughout history to treat ailments they were never intended for. 

Lithium-based medications used to treat a range of psychiatric disorders were originally designed with gout and bladder stones in mind, and all over the world, chronic migraine sufferers are routinely prescribed a range of epilepsy medications. More recently, the global Ozempic shortages stand as a testament to Semaglutide’s multiple applications. 

Now in the UK, another repurposed drug has finally been recognised by the NHS for its groundbreaking potential to prevent the occurrence of breast cancer in patients, offering a glimmer of hope for up to 289,000 women.

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The trailblazing drug is Anastrozole, a hormone therapy drug found to convert the hormone androgen into small amounts of estrogen. Given its known behaviour, doctors soon began incorporating the drug into breast cancer treatment for patients that fit the medication’s requirements. 

Taken as a 1mg tablet, once a day for five years, the drug was found to be effective in treating hormone receptor-positive breast cancer that is reliant on estrogen but did not work on hormone receptor-negative breast cancer patients. 

While Anastrozole has been used for many years as a reliable breast cancer treatment, this week it has finally been licensed in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a preventive option, allowing many more patients to soon access its benefits. 

“The extension of anastrozole’s licence to cover it being used as a risk-reducing treatment is a major step forward that will enable more eligible women with a significant family history of breast cancer, to reduce their chance of developing the disease,” says Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now in the UK. 

“Anastrozole was the first drug to be supported by the [Medicines Repurposing Programme] and this paves the way for improving access to risk-reducing drugs,” she adds. 

In England, Breast cancer remains the most common cancer, with 47,000 annual diagnoses. In Australia, the numbers mimic a similarly grim reality, with one in seven women diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. But thanks to improved detection methods and treatment options, all around the world women are armed with a better chance of surviving their diagnosis than ever before. 

“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, 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.”

Trials conducted in the UK were found to reduce breast cancer occurrence by almost 50 per cent in post-menopausal women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, an astounding statistic in comparison to other common treatments. 

As estimations predict, if only a quarter of all women in the UK at moderate or high risk of breast cancer (289,000) embark on the five-year treatment course, around 2,000 cases of breast cancer could potentially be prevented. This would equate to saving the NHS around £15 million in treatment costs (that’s nearly $29 million AUD).

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