Cancer: A new breast cancer therapy will oust chemotherapy by producing similar results without hair loss or infertility
By Lucy Quinton
Breast cancer sufferers will no longer need to endure the effects of chemotherapy, after scientists found hormone therapy drugs to be just as effective.
A new British study, which combined results from trials of 12,000 women, found the hormone therapy drugs, known as LHRH agonists, used on their own to treat early breast cancer were as effective as chemotherapy.
The current side effects of chemotherapy can include infertility and problems during menopause. New drugs, on the other hand, will enable younger cancer patients to still conceive.
After surgery to remove tumours, drugs are implemented to reduce or switch off the body's supply of oestrogen, reducing the reoccurrence of cancer. However, this can lead to permanent infertility and unpleasant side effects for women, such as hair loss.
However, LHRH works by stopping the pituitary gland from producing a hormone that stimulates the ovaries to manufacture oestrogen. After two years, the ovaries usually begin functioning normally again.
Professor Karol Sikora, medical director at CancerPartnersUK, said, however, that this is not a breakthrough as "we've been using LHRH agonists for this purpose for over a decade. This is just the assessment of a very large number of patients showing that, for many premenopausal women with breast cancer, hormonal manipulation is as effective as chemotherapy."
The drugs work by switching off the driving signals between the pituitary gland and the ovaries, which reduces oestrogen levels in the blood, he explained.
Prof Sikora added: The future will be about personalising treatment so that the best possible drugs are given to an individual to reduce the chances of the cancer returning."
Professor Jack Cuzick, a scientist at Cancer Research UK and lead author of the study, said the new drugs could either replace chemotherapy or offer an additional treatment.
The results of the trials, reported in the Lancet, also showed the drugs can boost the effects of both chemotherapy and tamoxifen.
Experts believe up to 5,500 women each year who develop breast cancer before the menopause would benefit from LRH agonist, Zoladex, which is given once a month as an implant under the skin of the stomach.
Also known as goserelin, the drug was originally developed to treat prostate cancer. It has been used against breast cancer for some years, but experts say the latest study provided the most solid evidence yet that the regime can save women's fertility as well as their lives.
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