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Breast cancer breakthrough as drug transforms treatment for half of victims

breast cancer screeningALMOST half of women with breast cancer could have their treatment transformed by a readily available hormone found in the Pill.

In a landmark study, Cambridge University researchers have shown that progesterone – an inexpensive drug used in contraceptives – slows the growth of tumours.

In lab tests, it made tamoxifen, the gold standard breast cancer medicine, work twice as well as usual. As a result, experts believe it could be a life-saver.

Despite advances in medicine and improvements in survival, breast cancer still claims the lives of almost 1,000 women a month.

It is thought progesterone may work in nearly half of the 55,000 cases diagnosed each year, meaning tens of thousands of women and their loved ones could benefit from the breakthrough.

With tests on women being planned and progesterone both cheap and safe, experts said the ‘exciting’ research was ‘a big step forward’.The journal Nature said it was ‘time to rethink breast cancer’.

Researcher Dr. Jason Carroll said: “The results are pretty clear and potentially have direct benefits for many women with breast cancer.”

Carroll’s research centres on tumours that are fuelled by the hormone oestrogen. Some of these are also sensitive to progesterone, a hormone used in contraception.

Carroll, who is funded by Cancer Research UK, showed that in this type of tumour, progesterone ‘talks’ to the oestrogen that is trying to feed the tumour. This stops the cancer from growing as quickly.

In tests on mice with tumours, giving progesterone at the same time as tamoxifen, a drug widely used to stop breast cancer coming back after surgery, had a dramatic effect.

Cancers treated with the progesterone-tamoxifen combination grew half as quickly as those given tamixofen alone, the journal Nature reports.

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