Drug cuts breast cancer return among young women

In collaboration with the Press Association

A 15-year trial of a drug called fenretinide has suggested that it can significantly reduce the risks of recurrent breast cancer among younger women.

Although the research is at an early stage, the results are convincing enough for researchers to call for a major trial into its use as a preventative treatment for pre-menopausal women at risk of breast cancer .

The study was a 15 year-follow-up of a trial that began in 1987.

The research, co-ordinated by the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Italy, gave 1,700 women daily 200mg doses of fenretinide following surgery for early-stage breast cancer.

"We followed these patients for between 12 and 16 years and we found 168 second breast cancers in the fenretinide arm and 190 in the control arm," said co-author Dr Andrea Decensi.

"In post-menopausal women there were actually more cancers in the fenretinide arm than among the controls (85 as against 64).

"But, among pre-menopausal women there were only 83 second cancers in the fenretinide group compared with 126 in the control group," she added.

Professor Veronesi, who led the analysis, said that fenretinide appeared to work by re-imposing order on breast cells that were in the process of becoming disorganised and growing out of control, and also by forcing those that were in danger of becoming cancerous to undergo normal cell death (apoptosis).

While the results of the trial suggested that the treatment was unsuitable for older women, the 38 per cent reduction of recurrence among younger women merited further study said the team.

They added that although the drug was only administered for five years, the relationship still seemed to remain strong after a 15-year follow up.

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