Status: 04.12.2023, 09:21 a.m.
By: Juliane Gutmann
Medical progress can be seen in cancer therapy, but also in prevention. A drug is designed to prevent breast cancer. It is not approved in Germany.
Early detection examinations save countless lives every year. Breast cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer: Most malignant cancers can still be treated very well in very early stages. The chances of survival of cancer patients are increasing, as Dr. Birgit Hiller from the Cancer Information Service of the German Cancer Research Center said in an interview with IPPEN. MEDIA explains. "Above all, new drugs have contributed to this." Classical therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have also been greatly developed through research, according to Hiller.
But there is positive news not only in therapy, but also in the field of prevention. This is because one active ingredient has proven to be effective against breast cancer in trials. It is anastrozole, a so-called aromatase inhibitor that suppresses estrogen production. It has been used in the treatment of breast cancer for more than 20 years, according to the Pharmazeutische Zeitung (PZ).
Anastrozole reduces breast cancer cases by about half
Since 2017, anastrozole has been recommended in the UK and since 2019 also in the USA for breast cancer prevention for risk groups, the PZ further informs. According to the National Health Service (NHS), tests have shown that anastrozole reduces the number of breast cancer cases by about half over eleven years. ZDF informs about this, citing information from the German press agency dpa.
Tumors in the breast can be benign or malignant. If the latter are detected at an early stage, the chances of recovery are good. © Hannibal Hanschke/dpa
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The problem: Although anastrozole was first recommended as a preventive drug by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2017, it lacked official approval for this indication until the beginning of November 2023. That's why many women had refrained from taking it. However, on November 7, 2023, anastrozole was approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a preventive measure. The hope of the NSH is that this decision will help the risk group to take it as a preventive measure against breast cancer from now on.
The target group for anastrozole are postmenopausal women, who are assumed to have a medium or high risk of breast cancer, according to dpa. In the UK, that would be about 290,000 women. "Around 289,000 women at medium or high risk of breast cancer could be eligible for the drug. While not everyone will choose to take it, it is estimated that if 25 per cent do, around 2,000 cases of breast cancer in England could be prevented," says the NHS.
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"Thanks to this initiative, we hope that better access to anastrozole could empower more women to take risk-reducing measures if they want to, helping them live a life free of breast cancer fears," said NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard.
Situation in Germany: Preventive breast cancer drug only available in exceptional cases
Anastrozole is not approved in Germany. The reasons for this are a manageable number of studies and a number of possible side effects. However, the active ingredient could be used in exceptional cases to prevent breast cancer, the dpa quotes the German Cancer Research Center. However, this is only possible if the attending physician prescribes anastrozole as part of a so-called "off-label" use. The technical term for this is "off-label use", according to the German Cancer Research Center.
This article only contains general information on the respective health topic and is therefore not intended for self-diagnosis, treatment or medication. It is in no way a substitute for a visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, our editors are not allowed to answer individual questions about clinical pictures.