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England first to approve cervical cancer drug

Women with advanced cervical cancer could live longer after England became the first country in the world to make it routinely available.

Avastin (bevacizumab) is already on the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund list for advanced breast, bowel and ovarian cancer. It has now been added for cervical cancer.

Patients could gain precious extra months of life if their specialist agrees the drug, which cuts the blood supply to tumours, would benefit them.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the move represents “very positive” news for women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer at an advanced stage.

Given that the prognosis is often poor “any extra time that can be provided through new drugs becomes extremely valuable”, he explained.

Avastin is not routinely available in other countries, such as the US, as it has not yet received a licence for treating cervical cancer.

The drug has also not yet gone through the usual process for gaining approval from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The decision to routinely offer the drug was made in the wake of evidence showing that women with advanced cervical cancer lived, on average, close to an additional four months when taking the drug with chemotherapy, compared with chemotherapy alone.

Professor Peter Clark, chairman of the chemotherapy clinical reference group at NHS England, said: “This new addition to the list demonstrates NHS England’s commitment to achieving maximum benefit to patients from the £200m Cancer Drugs Fund.”

Cancer specialists take a lead in decisions to update the list. The process of doing this “should ensure that patients benefit quickly when new drugs become available that are backed by good evidence from trial data”, he added.

The Cancer Drugs Fund is a list of treatments approved for fast-track use on the NHS before they have gone through the usual regulatory or approval systems.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 and is on the rise in the UK.

Around 2,900 women are diagnosed every year and the disease causes approximately 1,000 deaths.

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