A trastuzumab (Herceptin) injection for breast cancer patients could save the NHS millions and vastly reduce the length of treatment time.
At present, the thousands of women who are diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease every year have to be given drugs intravenously for long periods.
But a new type of treatment has now been approved by regulators whereby trastuzumab is administered by injection, taking just minutes to carry out.
NHS authorities are to fund the new jab, which clinicians say would offer “a dramatic improvement” in the quality of life of women battling aggressive cancer, where treatment can last more than a year.
If the injection is introduced routinely, it could also mean massive savings for the NHS, now that the use of trastuzumab has been approved by central funding bodies.
Trastuzumab was hailed as a “wonder drug” for breast cancer patients, and came under the media spotlight with high-profile legal battles by women to win NHS funding for the treatment before rationing bodies allowed it to be funded in 2006.
Around 10,000 of the 48,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Britain have the HER2 positive form, which is aggressive.
This new treatment speeds up the delivery of the drug to such an extent that women can undergo an injection in two to five minutes instead of enduring an intravenous drip for between two and three hours – though patients still need to stay in hospital for around an hour and a half after the injection to be monitored.
Peter Clark chair of NHS England’s chemotherapy clinical reference group and an oncologist at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre Foundation Trust, said: “It is a more comfortable form of receiving this drug.
“The faster treatment also frees up the time of highly trained cancer nurses to give care to patients on the ward.”
The green light for the jab has also been welcomed by charities, which said it would help the quality of life for the thousands of women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Jackie Harris, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: “This is a more time and cost efficient delivery of Herceptin through subcutaneous injection.
“This approval is a welcome step and we hope that this treatment administration will be made available across the UK as soon as possible.”
Sally Greenbrook, senior policy officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, added: “This is a good example of how research can make improvements to patients’ quality of life as well saving considerable time and money for the NHS.
“For eligible patients, the option to have their Herceptin administered by injection, rather than through a drip, will appeal to them and we’re pleased that this treatment will now be routinely available on the NHS.”
Jacqui Graves, head of health and social care at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is hugely encouraging that a new herceptin injection will be offered to breast cancer patients across the UK. This demonstrates a significant breakthrough in the treatment of cancer.
“This injection is a less invasive option and will result in treatment times being dramatically reduced. This means thousands will have the freedom to spend more time doing what they want and less time stuck in hospital beds,” she added.
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