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Monday 25th June 2018

Patients with rarer cancers may be squeezed out

5th May 2010

Professor Jane Maher, Chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, warns that patients with the ‘wrong cancer’ may be getting a ‘raw’ deal.


While cancer is now a chronic, but entirely beatable, disease the improvements in treatment over the last decade have not been uniform for different types of cancer.

Women diagnosed with kidney cancer, for example, have only a 43% chance of living for five years in comparison to a 79% chance for breast cancer patients.

And where there is effective treatment there are cases where the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has not deemed it cost-effective.

Public debate over the issue has led to new NICE guidelines to encourage greater flexibility when deciding the cost-effectiveness of end-of-life drugs.

But instead of more drugs for rarer cancers being available, we have seen many rejected.

The issue is these drugs, with high development costs, are suitable to a small number of patients, which makes them expensive in comparison to drugs for common cancers.

For those needing such drugs, apart from paying for them in full, they can go through the difficult process of applying to the Primary Care Trust for Exceptional Funding of the drug.

But with pressures on PCTs and looming budget cuts, the odds are stacked against the patient.

The current one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating treatments must change to a system that is genuinely flexible and based on what is valuable to patients.

To do this, NICE and our whole approach to valuing new drugs has to evolve.


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