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UK lagging behind with bowel cancer drug test

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More than 60% of patients with advanced bowel cancer have not been tested to find out if they could benefit from a drug which might extend their life, research claims.

In France 89% of people with the disease were given the KRAS biomarker test, as were 73% of Spanish bowel cancer patients. But the UK is lagging behind with just 44% being given the blood test to discover whether they would be helped by taking cetuximab - the drug marketed as Erbitux.

Without the £120 test, patients cannot be given the medication, which in some cases can increase life expectancy.

Researchers funded by Merck Serono, which manufactures Erbitux and refunds trusts for the cost of the tests, compared information about more than 4,200 patients in the UK, France and Spain.

Dr Harpreet Wasan, a consultant medical oncologist who led the study, said the number of patients being given the procedure needed to rise to make sure they were receiving the right treatment.

He said it was important to know someone’s KRAS status so they could be given life-extending medication if it was shown it was likely to help them. And he added that the test was also useful in identifying those who would not benefit from the treatment so they would not waste time taking the drug and suffering from potential side-effects unnecessarily.

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