Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NHS Doctors Ration [Pound]600 Lifesaving Cancer Drug

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NHS Doctors Ration [Pound]600 Lifesaving Cancer Drug

Article excerpt

Byline: ZOE MORRIS

DOCTORS are having to ration potentially lifesaving cancer drugs costing less than [pound]600 a course because of lack of funding,experts warned today.

A national investigation into the treatment of cancer sufferers has revealed that less than six per cent of patients who could benefit from drugs which help the body to cope with chemotherapy are being prescribed the medicine.

The remainder are left more susceptible to infections - which prove fatal in at least 10 per cent of cases - at a saving of [pound]600 a course on the growth factor drugs, known as G-CSFs.

The funding shortfall means around a third of patients have their chemotherapy cut short or have less powerful drugs prescribed, contributing to cancer survival rates which lag behind the US and other parts of Europe.

The latest example of rationing in the health service comes after an audit of the treatment of almost 600 patients with primary breast cancer and advanced lymphoma at 23 hospitals in the UK.

Co-author of the audit, Dr Ruth Pettengell, a consultant oncologist at St George's Hospital, Tooting, said: "Our priority goes to drugs that are going to kill the cancer, so there are not enough resources for these supportive drugs."

However, evidence from the US shows that use of the growth factor drugs, such as Neupogen, prevents courses of chemotherapy being cut short, increasing the survival odds for sufferers.

Dr Rob Thomas a consultant cancer specialist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, said: "If you believe chemotherapy improves survival for patients, then you should believe that giving the right dose is crucial to its success and there is plenty of scientific evidence to support this."

Today's audit reveals that 30 per cent of breast cancer patients and 47 per cent with lymphoma had their chemotherapy dose modified to prevent them picking up infections, which the growth factor drugs would have protected them from.

The main reason for dropping chemotherapy dose intensity is a common, but serious, side-effect known as neutropenia. This results in a dramatic fall in white blood cells which protect the body from infection. …

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