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Women's Health Week: New Cancer Drug Could Cut Need for Chemo

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It's being described as the breakthrough doctors have waited 20 years for.

A hormone treatment for breast cancer that is just as effective, if not better, for women than chemotherapy.

Based on a cocktail of drugs, chemotherapy often leads to hair loss and even infertility.

Hormone treatment for pre-menopausal women could avoid both.

Clare Footitt says that when she was diagnosed in 2000, she was just 28 years old.

At the time clare was one the youngest Women in the United Kingdom to have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had a lumpectomy, and her lymph nodes were removed before undergoing chemotherapyand radiotherapy.

She says one of the major issues she was concerned about was whether or not the treatments would make her infertile.

Seven years later, clear of the cancer, Clare is just 35 years old, and because of the treatment, doesn't know if she will ever be able to have children.

She's not alone, although breast cancer is far more common in post-menopausal women, more than 8,000 women this year will develop breast cancer before they reach menopause.

Today, a hormone therapy drug traditionally used to treat prostate cancer has proven very effective against breast cancer.  

The name of the drug is luteinising-hormone-releasing-hormone (lhrh). 

Professor Jack Cuzick, the reports author says, "For the lower risk pre-menopausal women, this is a useful alternative to chemotherapy, it's as effective as chemotherapy, it generally has fewer side effects, one of the main benefits is that these women, after treatment, can still become fertile again."

So how does it work? When pre-menopausal women get cancer, two-thirds of the time, the body's own production of estrogen aggravates the disease.

Chemotherapy stops the ovaries from producing estrogen, but can have serious side effects from hair loss to infertility.

Hormone therapy leaves the ovaries alone, instead blocking the signals that tells them to produce estrogen.

It means fewer side effects and fertility should return once treatment stops.

Clare Footitt now spends a lot of time with breast cancer patients.

Following today's report, she hopes this relatively inexpensive drug could become much more widely available. The name of the drugs is luteinising-hormone-releasing-hormone (lhrh). The drug is believed to block estrogen, which stimulates the cancer.

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