Avoiding breast cancer is something every woman wants to do, but a new recommendation has come forward that suggests that women at risk of breast cancer could be given a daily dose of pills to ward off the disease. What isn’t mentioned are the risks.
The recommendation comes from an expert review published in the journal Lancet Oncology. It recommends all women with a greater than 4 per cent above average risk of developing breast cancer in the next ten years should be offered preventative drugs and closer monitoring. At present there are 44,000 new cases of breast cancer every year but this new initiative would equate to one in ten women being offered drug treatment and could double the number of women over 50 advised to take preventative action. In reality this means the drug Tamoxifen which is already linked to serious health risks.
Of course any women at serious risk needs to take every precaution, but this new trend of ‘preventive’ health care which has also seen women prescribed HRT as a ‘preventive’ for symptoms of menopause is not one I can endorse. This sounds perilously like the policy that has seen the widespread prescription of statins to people who may be at risk of heart problems, but are certainly at risk of the side effects of being on a continuous drug regime for a condition they may not have.
Women with higher than average odds of breast tumours already have access to regular checks and some are given drugs to cut their chances of contracting the disease and in extreme cases are offer both mastectomies and hysterectomies. But these are extreme cases, and Tamoxifen in trials has shown that it may reduce the risk of the most common kind of breast cancer by around a third in women of the highest vulnerability. These women know the price they will pay for having breast cancer and that treatment may be appropriate for them but to extend out to less vulnerable women a drug that has raised doubts in many is not a good idea in my view .
The known, serious side effects of tamoxifen are blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer and cataracts, and less serious side effects are similar to the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal discharge. Tamoxifen is licensed in the U.S. but is not widely used, mainly due to concern about potential side-effects, and an inability to predict cancer risk accurately.
A more natural approach includes using natural hormones such as progesterone which counteracts and balances estrogen’s potentially carcinogenic effect, going on an anti-cancer diet, having a healthy weight and taking more exercise. Dr Tony Coope, who works extensively with natural hormones in his practice, had this comment to make on the practice of taking these preventive drugs for cancer:
“There are several problems with this approach, part of a trend in medicine that I think is very counter-productive. Firstly, there is the focus on intervening at this level with drugs which have known and serious side effects, when there are bio-identical alternatives that perform this function more efficiently, at lower cost, and without harmful side effects.
Secondly, it distracts us from exploring the root cause of the problem, which is at the level of the unconscious, the storehouse of beliefs and attitudes that create our perception of the world we live in, and drive the mutations and expression of our genes.
As Dr Vincent Felitti of San Diego has commented, a person unfamiliar with fire would be initially tempted to treat the smoke, – the most visible aspect of the problem. Fortunately for us our fire departments have learned to distinguish cause and effect long ago; if they hadn’t, they would be using fans instead of water hoses.
Unfortunately in modern medicine it seems that we are still often investing in fans.”
I couldn’t agree more, and although it may have seemed prudent to our ancestors to have all their teeth removed to prevent any future toothache, I had thought we had moved on from this blunderbuss approach.