Women with breast cancer are needed for a four-year study of the drug tamoxifen, a successful preventive treatment for the disease, which is believed to be responsible for the recent fall in the death rate. Up to half a million women in the United Kingdom already take the drug, but the new trial will focus on the benefits - or otherwise - of long-term treatment. Tamoxifen has been used since the mid-1960s, but was only confirmed as a useful preventative treatment for breast cancer in 1990.
The trial is being funded by the United Kingdom Co-ordinating Committee for Cancer Research, comprising the CRC, Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Medical Research Council. It will run in parallel with another tamoxifen trial which began recruiting volunteers earlier this yea, and aims to see if the drug can prevent breast cancer in healthy women with a family history of the disease. This earlier trial ran into ethical problems because of the risks of giving healthy women such a potent hormonal drug. The MRC has twice refused to back it but is believed to be reconsidering its position.