Breast cancer

NHS to launch another life-saving breast cancer treatment

The NHS are set to roll out another potentially life-saving treatment for one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer, benefitting hundreds of women every single year.

Almost 2,000 people are affected by high-risk triple-negative breast cancer a year, but the treatment in question, an immunotherapy called pembrolizumab used in conjunction with chemotherapy, can reduce the chances of a patient’s cancer from further developing by a massive 40%.

The launch follows the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) draft guidance recommending the treatment after clinical trials found that adding pembrolizumab to chemotherapy before surgery, and then persevering solely with pembrolizumab post-surgery, increases the chance the cancer will disappear, as well as increasing the time elapsed before any cancer recurs – the evidence did not give a clear picture on if pembrolizumab improves life expectancy however.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “This is a hugely significant moment for women – the NHS has struck a new deal to roll out a potentially life-saving drug for patients suffering with the most aggressive form of breast cancer that has been traditionally very difficult to treat.

“It is fantastic news for around 1,600 women across the country each year who have either been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer or will be in the coming years – it will give hope to those who are diagnosed, and prevent the cancer from progressing allowing people to live normal, healthy, lives.

“This is just the latest commercial drug deal that the NHS has struck for patients – once again highlighting the innovative treatments available at a price that represents good value for money for taxpayers.”

The treatment is delivered directly into the bloodstream every three-to-six weeks for around a year and works by targeting and blocking a particular protein on the surface of certain immune cells, which then contribute to eradicating the body’s cancerous cells.

This latest innovation will be the 25th breast cancer treatment delivered to patients via the Cancer Drugs Fund and the second treatment this year for the cancer that overall affects approximately 8,000 women a year and accounts for 15% of all breast cancer diagnoses.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “It’s fantastic news that immunotherapy pembrolizumab has been recommended for routine use on the NHS as a treatment option for an estimated 1,600 eligible patients with primary triple negative breast cancer.

“This less common but often more aggressive type of breast cancer is more common in women with an inherited BRCA gene, women aged under 40 and black women, and the risk of triple negative breast cancer returning and spreading to other parts of the body in the first few years after treatment is higher than for other types of breast cancer. Yet, for far too long, patients with this type of breast cancer have faced the frightening reality of limited treatment options.

“This new treatment can potentially lead to any detectable cancer disappearing by the time of surgery, meaning patients will then possibly face less invasive, breast-conserving surgery. Furthermore, by significantly reducing the likelihood of breast cancer recurring or spreading to other parts of the body where it becomes incurable secondary breast cancer, this treatment brings precious hope of more lives potentially being saved from this devastating disease.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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