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British drug watchdog backs new breast cancer drugs

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) Britain's medicines cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE approved a new class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors for older women suffering from breast cancer.

The decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) means breast cancer patients in England and Wales with hormone-sensitive tumours will receive the drugs on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).

The new guidelines posted on the NICE website (www.nice.org.uk) brings the UK into line with most other European countries where the drugs have become standard treatment.

''We have been waiting for NICE's guidance for nearly two years,'' said Professor Jeffrey Tobias of University College London yesterday.

''Today's announcement should finally put an end to the postcode lottery for aromatase inhibitors (AIs) such as anastrozole, which have been shown to greatly improve women's chances of not having a breast cancer recurrence, over and above the benefit seen with tamoxifen.'' Tamoxifen has been the standard treatment following surgery for women with hormone-sensitive tumours but studies have shown that switching to an aromatase inhibitor helps patients live longer and improves their odds of remaining free of the disease.

Aromatase inhibitors suppress the production of the hormone oestrogen, which is linked to the development of breast cancer in post-menopausal women.

Tamoxifen works by preventing the action of oestrogen on the cells of the breast.

Anastrozole made by AstraZeneca under the brand name Arimidex, letrozole sold by Novartis as Femara and exemestane marketed as Aromasin by Pfizer are leading aromatase inhibitors.

Pamela Goldberg, head of the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, welcomed the announcement, saying it offers women another treatment option.

''The decision means patients finally have access to the most appropriate treatment for this type of breast cancer on the NHS,'' she said.

The decision will affect about 23,000 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer and other patients already taking tamoxifen.

Around 41,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

REUTERS BDP VV0932

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