A new drug, anastrozole, has been shown to be more successful than any previous treatment in preventing the recurrence of breast cancer.
A trial, published in The Lancet medical journal, found that it was more effective than tamoxifen, which for the past 20 years has been the standard treatment.
The new drug, which was tested by 3,244 women in Austria and Germany with early-stage breast cancer, is, however, eight times more expensive.
The study suggests that if women who have been treated with tamoxifen for two years following breast cancer then switch to anastrozole, their risk of relapse reduces by 40 per cent compared to if they continue taking tamoxifen for the standard five-year course.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which determines the drugs that will be freely available on the NHS, will report on the use of the drug for early stages of breast cancer in November 2006. Anastrozole is already available on the NHS to women with advanced breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer, causing more than 400,000 deaths a year worldwide. More than one million people are diagnosed with the disease each year.
* A woman's risk of developing breast cancer while using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be lower than believed, researchers at the New South Wales Breast Cancer Institute said.
Their study found that among women not taking HRT, the average risk of developing the disease for those 40-79 stood at 7.2 per cent; while for the group starting HRT at 50 up to the age of 79, the risk stood at 6.1 per cent and at 60-79 the risk was 4.44 per cent.Reuse content