Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have found that a breast cancer drug can halve the risk of getting the cancer, in high-risk postmenopausal women.

Anastrozole isn’t a new drug on the market, but one that is currently used to prevent breast cancer recurrences, but in the trial, it was used for prevention.

The  study, which took place over 5 years,  involved 4,000 postmenopausal women at high risk of getting the cancer. A high risk woman would be one who had two or more blood relatives with breast cancer, having a mother or sister who had cancer in both breasts, having a mother or sister who developed cancer before the age of 50, or if they had a high-risk type of benign cancer.

Half the participants were give 1mg of anastrozole daily and half were given a placebo. At  the end of the study, 40 women who were given anastrozole developed breast cancer, compared to the 85 women given the placebo.

“We now know anastrozole should be the drug of choice when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women with a family history or other risk factors for the disease,” said lead researcher Dr. Jack Cuzick, head of the Cancer Research the U.K.’s Center for Cancer Prevention.

“This class of drugs is more effective than previous drugs such as tamoxifen and crucially, it has fewer side effects,” he said.

Some breast cancers require estrogen to grow. The estrogen binds to the estrogen receptors in these cells and activates them. Anastrozole works by preventing the body from making estrogen, and has been used to treat women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.

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