The first new drug in 15 years has been launched in the UK today to treat women suffering from terminal breast cancer. Novartis who makes Afinitor claim that 14,000 women a year with advanced breast cancer can potentially benefit from precious extra time, sometimes up to eight months, with their families.
Around 3,500 women a month are diagnosed with breast cancer. Currently, there is no cure for advanced breast cancer and patients can expect to live just 18-36 months after being diagnosed. A third will become advanced, with their cancer spreading to other tissue in the breast, or to other parts of the body. The drug could help those who are ER positive, the most common advanced form of the disease, who have failed to respond to other treatments. Such as aromatase inhibitors, or hormones that block the production of oestrogen, that feeds the cancer. But patients eventually develop resistance to this treatment so a new approach is essential.
However whilst this is great news, cost is, and will always, be an issue. And NICE, the drugs rationing body, is assessing whether Afinitor – at £2,935 a month – will be cost effective for the NHS to use. In the meantime though, it should be available through the Government's Cancer Drugs Fund, which pays for treatments that have not been approved.
Meanwhile while the ability of Afinitor to extend life expectancy is still being tested, cancer charities urged caution until the claim is confirmed.
Written and presented by Ann Salter