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Health Insight April 2002: Breast cancer:  research and new treatments

  Older women who are overweight may be more likely to get breast cancer, according to a study which found that high levels of sex hormones, which are more common in those who are overweight, can double the risk. The paper, published by scientists from Cancer Research UK’s epidemiology unit in Oxford, pooled data from nine separate studies, which included 765 post-menopausal health women and 663 with breast cancer. They found that those who had high levels of testosterone or free estradiol – an active form of oestrogen – in their blood had more than twice the risk of breast cancer of those who did not.

Inheriting a damaged version of a gene nearly doubles a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, according to researchers from Cambridge University. The scientists have pinpointed a faulty version of a gene called CHK2, which appears to be one of a number of genes that can combine to increase the risk of breast cancer.

Following the approval by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence of the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin), a new pill for the treatment of advanced breast cancer has been launched in the UK. The drug, capecitabine, can be used on its own in women who have already received intensive cancer treatment, or in combination with another cancer drug called docetaxel. Taken together the two drugs have been shown to increase survival time for women whose cancer has spread to other parts of their body. Capecitabine has still to be submitted to and approved by NICE before it will be widely available on the NHS. It is marketed in the UK under the brand name Xeloda by the pharmaceutical firm Roche.

Source: Guardian 18th April, BBC Online

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