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Five in six women reject drugs that could reduce their risk of breast cancer

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 09 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6650
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1The BMJ

Five in six women who are at increased risk of breast cancer turn down drugs that can reduce their chances of developing the disease, a study published in the Annals of Oncology has found.1

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London, UK, collected data from 26 international studies including more than 21 000 women of all ages who were at increased risk of developing breast cancer. The women in these studies were offered a five year course of preventive medicine to lower their risk of developing breast cancer.

Drugs to block cancer-causing hormones and yearly mammograms may be offered to certain women with a family history of the disease when they have a moderate to high risk of breast cancer.

Overall, the study found that just 16.3% of women at higher risk chose to take the medicine. Those offered the opportunity to take part in trials were more likely to use preventive drugs: 25% chose this, compared with 9% of women who made the decision outside a clinical trial.

The team also examined 18 studies that looked at how likely the women were to complete a full course of drugs. The studies looked at any drug used for breast cancer prevention, including tamoxifen and raloxifene, given as part of a clinical trial or by a specialist. Most studies reported that more than 80% of women took the drugs for at least a year, but this declined over time.

Sam Smith, study author, said, “Our important research reveals that only a small proportion of eligible women make the decision to have preventative medication. It’s crucial to find out why so many chose not to take the drugs—or stopped taking them before completing the course.”

Martin Ledwick, head of cancer information nurses at Cancer Research UK, said, “We need to find out more about how women at higher risk of breast cancer make decisions about the different ways they can reduce the risk of developing the disease, to make sure that they have the information they need to make the choice that is right for them.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6650


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