Actress Angelina Jolie has had surgery to prevent breast cancer
The news today is full of reaction to US actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to have surgery to reduce her chances of breast cancer.
She made this difficult decision because, having lost her mother to ovarian cancer, she discovered she carries a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene – which put her at very high risk of getting both forms of the disease.
If you haven’t read her brave and thoughtful piece in the New York Times, it’s worth doing so.
But in the light of the considerable interest, and the fact that many people will undoubtedly have questions, we wanted to pull together a few quick thoughts and facts on the topic of inherited breast cancer generally, and the BRCA1 gene specifically.
The 2010 film The King’s Speech was a national triumph. So at Cancer Research UK we’re dismayed to have to report that we’re not exactly rolling out the red carpet for yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.
In fact, quite the opposite.
The Queen’s Speech – which outlined the Government’s focus for the next year – has, shockingly, left plans to put tobacco products in plain, standardised packaging, on the cutting room floor.
The government has thus failed to deliver on a policy that would help protect children from a product that has no safe level of consumption.
So today, nine months since its consultation closed in August 2012, we’re left hanging, still waiting for the government to make a clear statement of its intentions.
In that time more than 150,000 children have started smoking – the beginning of an addiction that kills half its long-term users.
In light of this disappointing decision, we wanted to outline, clearly and simply, which organisations support this measure. Also we thought it worth exposing the vested interests of its opponents. This is all worth knowing, because this fight isn’t over; this is not “The End”.
Can drugs like tamoxifen be used to prevent breast cancer?
Tamoxifen is one of the mainstays of breast cancer treatment. Since the early 1980s, it’s been given to women who’ve had breast cancer to try to stop the disease returning.
As a result, it’s saved the lives of millions around the world, and some regard it as the most important cancer drug ever developed.
But today this old drug returns to the spotlight, with a new study showing that tamoxifen and other oestrogen- blocking medicines can reduce the chances of healthy women developing breast cancer.
We’ve blogged before about the discovery of tamoxifen, and Cancer Research UK’s role in its development.
But until now it’s not been clear whether tamoxifen and related drugs might have benefits for healthy women. Today’s finding, by an international team led by Cancer Research UK-funded researchers, provides the best evidence yet that these drugs could be used to help prevent breast cancer in women at average and above-average risk of the disease.
This is hugely significant. If benefits are shown to outweigh the risks, offering women at high risk of breast cancer a drug to lower their risk, could potentially prevent many thousands of breast cancer cases in the UK alone.
Let’s look at their findings, and at what happens next.