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Support for assisted dying, novel trial for heart treatment and tamoxifen can reduce breast cancer

A round-up of the health news headlines on Tuesday 30 April.

First this morning we have a study covering standards of care for terminally ill people, which the Telegraph claims are so poor that they are fuelling support for the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The poll of more than 4,000 people by YouGov on on behalf of the organisers of the regular Westminster Faith Debates showed that 70% of people agreed that people who help their loved ones with incurable illnesses die should not face prosecution. More than a third of those in favour of assisted dying cited a belief that the national health and welfare systems ‘cannot provide decent end-of-life care’.

The survey also revealed that only 16% actively opposed the idea of assisted dying.

Meanwhile, a trial has been offered to patients to see if an engineered virus can be used to heal damaging and struggling hearts, the BBC reports.

The trial will use a virus to introduce genetic material into heart muscle to reverse the organ’s decline. However, the British Heart Foundation warned that it needed to be proven to work in clinical trials. Researchers at Imperial College London found levels of the protein SERCA2a were lower in heart-failure patients. So they devised a genetically modified virus, with the instructions for producing more of the protein, that can infect the heart.

Finally today, the Guardian among others has reported that new research shows tamoxifen, raloxifene, arzoxifene and lasofoxifene can significantly reduce the incidence of breast cancer in women at risk from the disease.

Researchers at Queen Mary University, London, studied medical records for 83,000 women taking the pills, which showed the drugs reduced breast cancer incidence by 38% in those at risk. They monitored the effect of taking the drugs for five years and then stopping treatment for a further five. After five years of treatment, the Lancet reported, the risk of breast cancer fell by 42%. But a reduction of 25% was also seen in women five years after they stopped the pills.

Professor Jack Cuzick, from Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: ‘These are very encouraging results and pave the way for more widespread use of these drugs in high-risk women in a manner similar to the way statins and blood pressure-lowering drugs are used to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.’

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