One In Five Women Would Consider Breast Removal To Reduce Their Risk Of Cancer

A new international survey – connected to a study taking place at the University of Dundee – reveals that around one in five women would consider having both breasts removed to help reduce their risk of developing breast cancer if told they were at an increased risk of developing the disease.


The survey asked over 1500 women from around the world what choices they would make if told they were at high risk of developing breast cancer. Of the UK women who were questioned, up to one in three said they would consider having a double mastectomy.

Breast cancer experts wanted to learn more about women’s attitudes to breast cancer worldwide as they take the first step in trying to prevent up to 80 per cent of hormone sensitive breast cancers. With nearly half the women saying they were concerned about developing breast cancer, the study highlights the need for all prevention options, particularly new ones, to be clearly explained. Women in the UK are particularly worried with around 60 per cent saying they are concerned about breast cancer.

When asked if they would consider taking part in a trial investigating a preventive treatment for breast cancer, around 50 per cent of the women said they would consider it. Around 45 per cent of the women in the survey said they would consider taking a daily tablet as a preventive step against breast cancer.

In the UK there are around 41,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Around 80 per cent of these are post-menopausal women.

Scientists based at the University of Dundee are involved in one of the first worldwide prevention trials, called IBIS-II1, which is investigating whether a drug already used to treat breast cancer may have the ability to prevent the disease.

This landmark trial involves postmenopausal, high risk women taking a once-a-day pill containing the drug anastrozole. Previous trials investigating this drug as a treatment for breast cancer have shown that it reduces the risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast by over 50 per cent2.

The female hormone, oestrogen, is known to be the most important cause of breast cancer in post-menopausal women and anastrozole works by stopping oestrogen being produced.

This is the first time the drug is being investigated as a preventive measure. Cancer Research UK scientists are looking for 6,000 women from around the world to take part in the trial.

“The IBIS-II study is extremely important for women with an increased risk of developing breast cancer” commented Professor Jack Cuzick, Cancer Research UK’s lead researcher on the trial. “It is vitally important that women come forward to participate in the trial. It could provide them with a valuable option in helping to control breast cancer. Many of us already take medications to prevent heart disease so just imagine the possibilities if, in the future, we could use a simple, once-a-day medication, to reduce the occurrence of breast cancer. For those women faced with the reality of being at high risk of developing breast cancer, this trial has the potential to change their lives.”

He adds: “With over 30,000 post-menopausal women being diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year, i t’s vital that we look for effective ways of preventing the disease.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK, says: “It is extremely rare for women to undergo a double mastectomy for preventive reasons and as an option, it is most relevant to women with a very strong family history of breast cancer. 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 so high. Through trials like this, women and researchers are working together to help discover clear and safe options for helping to prevent breast cancer.”

Professor Alastair Thompson, Professor of Surgical Oncology at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, is the local trial co-ordinator in Dundee. He said, “We urge all women who are concerned about breast cancer to speak with their doctor. Understanding your risk of developing breast cancer and knowing what options are available are essential for all women. We are asking those women who are eligible for the trial to come forward and help us to find a way to help prevent breast cancer.”

To be eligible to take part in the IBIS II programme, women must be post-menopausal, not taking HRT and have at least twice the normal risk of breast cancer – for example someone whose mother or sister had breast cancer before the age of 50, or who has two family members with the disease.

Post-menopausal women who are interested in taking part should contact research nurses Gillian Little and Mhairi Hawkes on 01382 633850.

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