An estimated 250,000 Australian women who are at increased risk of breast cancer now have better access to a proven prevention medication.  

The Australian Government announced today that Nolvadex (Generic name: Tamoxifen) has been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to reduce breast cancer risk in women whose risk is more than 1.5 times the average population risk. 

This announcement comes at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month and follows the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval in April to register the drug for breast cancer prevention1.

Nolvadex has been used to treat breast cancer for decades. More recently,  large international clinical trials, that included Australian women, have demonstrated that when taken preventively daily for 5 years, the drug can reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer over a 20 year period  by more than 30%.    

The Medical Oncology Group of Australia (MOGA) has welcomed the PBS listing of Nolvadex for breast cancer prevention.  

“This represents a paradigm shift in how we manage women at increased risk of breast cancer, and is a major step forward in the fight to reduce the  incidence of breast cancer in this country,” says MOGA Chair, Associate Professor Chris Karapetis. 

“It means that many women who have been identified as being at increased risk of breast cancer will not get the disease and so will be spared the surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that are usually required if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.”   

Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips, a MOGA member and breast cancer prevention expert at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said Nolvadex had joined the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil as a cancer prevention medication listed on the PBS.

“Nolvadex is the first medication to be approved for prevention of breast cancer,” Professor Phillips says.

“Until now the only option available to women at high risk of breast cancer was having their breasts removed which, although very effective, is not undertaken by the majority of high-risk women.

“Now these women can access subsidised Nolvadex to reduce their lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.”

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Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips
Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips, Medical Oncologist at Peter Mac, speaks to patients

Christine Nolan, CEO of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA), Australia’s peak national consumer organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer, also welcomed the decision to list Nolvadex on the PBS for preventative purposes.

“The listing of Nolvadex gives women at moderate or high risk of developing breast cancer a way to reduce their risk without having to undergo major, life-changing surgery,” Ms Nolan says. 

“BCNA welcomes this new treatment option and we encourage women at increased risk to talk to their doctor about whether it might be appropriate for them.”

The population risk of breast cancer for Australian women is about 12%. Women at increased risk include those with a family history of breast cancer, those with certain types of abnormalities on breast biopsy, and women who have a combination of factors related to female hormone exposure, such as prolonged use of HRT.

Prof Phillips said all women should consider having their breast cancer risk formally assessed by their doctor. Online tools are available to help doctors to assess whether an individual woman’s breast cancer risk exceeds the 1.5 times population risk threshold.

Breast cancer accounts for around 12% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia each year. In 2015 there were around 16,000 new breast cancer diagnoses and around 3,000 deaths2.

For more information or to organise an interview with A/Prof Karapetis call Kay Francis on 0438 670 225 or email [email protected].

To organise an interview with Prof Phillips call the Peter Mac media line on 0417 123 048 or email [email protected].

To organise an interview with Christine Nolan, CEO of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA), call Penny Davies on 0409 385 358.

1 Tamoxifen (NOLVADEX/NOLVADEX-D) is indicated for the primary reduction of breast cancer risk in women either at moderately increased risk (lifetime breast cancer risk 1.5 to 3 times the population average) or high risk (lifetime breast cancer risk greater than 3 times the population average.

2 https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-types/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-statistics

Media release - Breast Cancer prevention tablet now available on PBS