Two contrasting developments in approaches to women with breast cancer have been reported in ‘The Times’ recently.

One report highlights the positive benefits of the introduction of the Oncotype DX test which is allegedly both saving the NHS money and saving thousands of women from undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy treatment for their condition. Approximately 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year and it has been claimed that, in 80% of cases, chemotherapy will make no difference to their eventual outcome. As well as helping doctors in identifying the likelihood that a women will develop breast cancer, the Oncotype DX test can also predict how they would respond to chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery. Given that the side-effects of chemotherapy can be extremely unpleasant, this would seem to be a positive advance.

A less positive development, however, has been revealed in The Times this week where it is claimed that a significant proportion of GPs are not offering drugs that could reduce the chances of developing breast cancer to those most at risk. It is believed that approximately a quarter of a million women with a family history indicating breast cancer could benefit from drugs such as tamoxifen and anastrozole, which can cut the chances of breast cancer by around a third.

However, up to 75% of GPs are either unaware of these recommendations or are reluctant to implement them, preferring not to give medication to people who are currently healthy.

In view of the increasing prevalence of breast cancer in the UK, a full understanding of the availability, suitability and effectiveness of cancer drugs is vital. The chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs is quoted as saying, “The benefits of using long-term medication to lower the risks of developing cancer are becoming clearer as new research findings become available, and it’s important that this informs official clinical guidelines and that GPs are aware of them.”

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