500,000 denied 7p-a-day breast cancer drug

In In The News, Uncategorized by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 7237By: Sophie Borland

From: dailymail.co.uk

Nearly half a million women are being denied a 7p-a-day pill that could prevent breast cancer because of NHS red tape.

Those with a family history of the  illness should be offered Tamoxifen or the similar drug Raloxifene, which can cut their risk by 40 per cent.

The medicines watchdog NICE urged doctors to offer the pills to high- and moderate-risk women for prevention last June.

The drugs cost less than 7p a day, and experts say giving them to at-risk patients will not only save lives, but millions of pounds in treatment costs for chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

However, a year after doctors were told to start prescribing them, the drugs are yet to be licensed for use – despite the fact they are known to be safe. As a result, GPs are unwilling to hand them out, fearing patients could sue over any side effects.

Doctors had been told to offer Tamoxifen or Raloxifene to any women over 35 who have more than a 17 per cent risk of breast cancer based on their family history, compared with the average risk of 12.5 per cent.

This amounts to about 488,000 women in England and Wales – the equivalent of 3 per cent of the entire age group.

Charities say they are ‘deeply concerned’ by the delay, which they fear could lead to women needlessly dying of breast cancer.

Mia Rosenblatt, head of policy at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: ‘It’s incomprehensible that there are low-cost, effective treatments out there which are not routinely available to patients because of red tape.

‘Bureaucracy is preventing potentially life-saving drugs from being made available to the thousands of women who could be eligible for them.

‘Any delays could mean the difference between life and death for thousands of patients, and this is simply unacceptable.’

Last year’s guidelines were hailed by campaigners as a ‘truly historic moment’ and a ‘tangible’ way for women to drastically reduce their chances of getting the illness.

But 12 months later, the charity says there is no evidence the drugs are being used on any ‘substantive scale’.

This is because the official Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has still not licensed the drugs for the purpose NICE has already recommended them for.

Breast Cancer Campaign added that such delays are also preventing a further 34,000 women with breast cancer being given a drug that could cut their chance of dying by 17 per cent.

It wants all sufferers over 50 to be offered bisphosphonates, which cost less than 30p a day.

They are routinely used to treat osteoporosis, but research has shown they also prevent breast cancer spreading to the bones.

The charity is backed by Tory MP Jonathan Evans, who is introducing a Private Members’ Bill urging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant new licences immediately.

He also hopes it will also be used for other drugs which have been licensed for one condition, but have been shown to be effective at treating another.

‘It clearly makes sense to address this barrier to accessing drugs and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to do so,’ he said.

Around 50,500 women develop breast cancer in the UK every year and it causes 11,500 deaths. Of those diagnosed, around 2,400 patients have inherited faults in known breast cancer genes including BRca 1 and 2.

Both Tamoxifen and Raloxifene are licensed in the US to prevent breast cancer, and are taken by around 40,000 women – but researchers say this figure is still ‘very low’.

The drugs work by blocking the hormone oestrogen, which is known to trigger the growth of cancerous cells. However, they can cause side effects such as hot flushes, headaches, nausea and, in rare cases, blood clots and strokes.