Health Policy

13.05.19

‘Pink drink’ cancer treatment that helps surgeons spot brain tumours rolled out across NHS

A new innovative brain cancer treatment aid that allows surgeons to identify areas of the brain affected by cancer has been rolled out across the NHS and could save up to 2,000 patients a year.

Known as the ‘pink drink’, 5-ALA uses fluorescent dye and ultraviolet light to make cancerous cells glow under UV light, meaning surgeons can accurately identify the affected areas of the brain.

The government made the announcement one year after the death of Baroness Tessa Jowell, the Labour MP who was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most cancerous brain tumour in adults.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said she had “fought passionately and courageously for more recognition of rare brain cancers before she tragically passed away last year.”

“One year on, the effects of her tireless campaigning can already be seen.

“I am proud to announce we have now rolled out this ground-breaking treatment aid across the country, transforming care for 2,000 patients every year – a fitting testament to Tessa’s memory.

“A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, but I want every single patient to feel reassured that they have access to the best and fastest care in our wonderful NHS.”

c. PAPA WirePA Images

The dye means surgeons can now treat some of the most difficult cases of cancer whilst leaving healthy cells untouched.

Research suggests that a whole tumour can be removed successfully in 70.5% of cases where 5-ALA is used, which is more than double the current percentage.

The treatment has been rolled out in every neurological centre in England as part of the NHS’s contribution to the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission which was established after her death.

The new treatment is also part of the NHS Long-Term Plan’s aim to save thousands more lives by catching cancers early and starting treatment fast.

The government said its ambition is to see an extra 55,000 people a year survive for five years or more following their cancer diagnosis.

Cally Palmer, national cancer director at NHS England, said: “This is a positive step forward for brain cancer treatment and patients are already benefiting from Tessa Jowell’s inspirational campaigning in her final months.

“Transforming the lives of millions of people with cancer is at the heart of NHS England’s Long-Term Plan and we are rapidly driving forward action to catch more cancers earlier, provide innovative new treatments and save tens of thousands more lives every year.”

 Image credit - Nikada - PA/PA Wire/PA Images

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