London: Up to one in 10 women could benefit from anti-cancer treatments such as tamoxifen even before they show signs of the disease. But there are concerns the drug could have side effects, such as blood clots and, in some cases, womb cancer, according to an international panel of experts.
The specialists call for a radical new approach to identifying and treating patients who are at risk, the journal Lancet Oncology reports.
Breast cancer kills 12,000 women in Britain alone every year and is the second-biggest cause of death among women after lung cancer, according to a newspaper.
The latest study suggested that breast cancer could be tackled using the same mass prevention approach that doctors used to reduce heart disease, under which millions of patients have been prescribed statins to lower their cholesterol.
Among the most widely prescribed cancer drugs is tamoxifen. It works to reduce levels of oestrogen, which causes many breast cancers to grow.
The drug is not currently approved for use in Britain as a preventive treatment to stop healthy women from developing cancer, although it is used in this way in the US.
Jack Cuzick from Queen Mary University of London, who led the study, said doctors should be authorised to prescribe tamoxifen as a preventive therapy in the UK, even though the drug can have serious side-effects.
The report, which followed an international conference of 150 breast cancer specialists in London last year, also recommended widening the methods used to identify women who are at risk of developing the disease.