Research has shown that drugs usually used to strengthen patient’s bones can cut breast cancer deaths by 18%.
With nearly 12,000 people dying from breast cancer every year, this discovery has been acclaimed as the most important for a decade and could save 1,000 lives a year in the UK alone.
Although the drugs are not available on the NHS for this purpose the data from 18,766 women, published in the Lancet, shows that the drugs could prevent secondary tumours from developing in the bone.
This is significant because after the tumour is removed from the breast there are risks that tiny fragments could have spread and the bone is the favourite second home of breast cancer where it can lie dormant for years.
The Early Breast Cancer Trialist’s Collaborative Group have analysed data from 26 separate female trails.
The results showed a 28% reduction in cancers emerging in the bone of menopausal women who were given the drug for up to five years after the cancer was removed.
Deaths were even cut by 18% over the 10years after initial diagnosis, which Prof Rob Coleman, who analysed the data at the University of Sheffield, praised as a “sizeable” risk reduction when talking to the BBC News website.
Bisphosphonates, mainly used to prevent bone loss, starves cancerous cells that spread to the bone and stop their growth.
Despite these discoveries, the drug is not licensed for use unless cancer has already been identified in the bone.
Prof Coleman has added that “the access issue is an important one. It would be a great shame if the systems we have to work with prove to be a block.”
Although the drug costs less than five pence a day per patient, it runs the risk of being unused and not benefiting the 34,000 post-menopausal women who could be eligible to take it each year.
By Francesca Stainer