Women in the UK most anxious about breast cancer

October 30, 2017

According to a six-country survey, women in Britain are more worried about breast cancer than in many other countries.

The news comes just ahead of the start of trials of a daily pill to be taken by healthy women in the hope of preventing breast cancer.

Among the 1,565 questioned in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Italy and the UK, one in five women said they would consider having a double mastectomy, to prevent breast cancer if they were at high risk.

The research was commissioned by Cancer Research UK, who say that nearly half of all the women said they were worried about breast cancer, but that figure rose to 60% in the UK.

The research says the charity highlights the need for preventive measures that women can take to reduce their risk and reassure themselves.

Cancer Research UK is funding a large trial of a drug called anastrozole, which is already being used to treat women with breast cancer, but which scientists think could also prevent it.

Jack Cuzick, lead scientist for Cancer Research, in what is being called the Ibis-II trial (International Breast Cancer Intervention Study), said it was important for those who are known to be at higher risk because of a family history of the disease to come forward to participate in the trial, as it could provide them with a valuable option in helping to control breast cancer.

Cuzick says in the future, it is possible that a simple medication could reduce the occurrence of breast cancer. He says the trial has the potential to change their lives.

More than 30,000 women past the menopause develop breast cancer in the UK every year.

Some of those will have known or suspected for a long time that they run a higher than normal risk of developing it, and for those with a strong family history of the disease, who sometimes have their susceptibility confirmed by genetic tests, there is little they can do beyond undergoing regular screening - or having their breasts removed.

Doctors would like to be able to prescribe a daily pill which would cut the risk, although it would be important that the side effects should be minimal, since it would be taken by healthy women.

Anastrozole is currently being prescribed to some women who have had breast cancer, because trials have shown it cuts the risk of a cancer developing in the unaffected breast by half.

The drug reduces the amount of oestrogen produced in the body, which many breast tumours need to grow.

Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at the charity, says it is extremely rare for women to undergo a double mastectomy for preventive reasons but it is a relevant option to women with a very strong family history of breast cancer.

Walker says that the global launch of Ibis-II aims to provide women with a new, far less radical option for preventing breast cancer at a time when numbers of women being diagnosed with the disease and concern about it is high.

Researchers want to recruit 6,000 women at high risk of breast cancer who have been through the menopause to the Ibis-II trial.

Women can take part if they are between 40 and 70 and are not taking hormone replacement therapy.