August 26, 2008

Cancer ‘Patients Kept in the Dark’

By John von Radowitz

DOCTORS are keeping cancer patients in the dark about new treatments that could extend their lives, it was claimed today. A quarter of myeloma specialists questioned in a survey admitted hiding the facts about treatments that may be difficult to obtain on the NHS.

The main reason given was to avoid distressing or confusing patients.

Myeloma is a bone marrow cancer that affects around 3,800 people each year in the UK. Of these, 2,600 are likely to die from the disease.

The new poll, conducted by the charity Myeloma UK, was designed to take a snapshot of the way the disease was being managed.

A total of 103 myeloma specialists in England, Wales and Scotland took part in the survey. The doctors candidly revealed how they struggled with NHS bureaucracy and cost-cutting to obtain the best treatments for their patients.

One in four confessed that they avoided telling patients about licensed drugs still awaiting approval by the NHS watchdog body the National Institution for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).

Primary Care Trusts are generally reluctant to pay for new drugs that have not yet been given the Nice green light. In 96% of cases, doctors that chose to keep quiet about hard to obtain treatments said they did so because it might "distress, upset or confuse" their patients.

Almost three quarters (74%) of the specialists said they had experienced PCTs blocking their applications for treatments, mainly because of cost.

Eric Low, chief executive of Myeloma UK, said: "It is appalling that myeloma patients cannot get access to life extending treatments, which are widely available throughout Europe. Post-code prescribing is rife in the UK with some patients getting access to life extending treatments ahead of a Nice decision while others are left to die. Myeloma UK wants to engage with the Department of Health to find a solution to this growing issue."

Nice is currently reviewing a number of myeloma treatments including the drug Revlimid, which trial data suggest could extend the life of patients by three years.

The drug obtained its UK licence in June 2007 and Nice is expected to make a decision on whether it should receive NHS funding in 2009. Revlimid is already widely available across Europe.

Dr Atul Mehta, a haematologist consultant at the Royal Free Hospital, London, said: "These survey findings reveal the dismal state of UK cancer management.

Patients with active myeloma require effective treatment to improve their chances of survival. The impact of waiting even a month for treatment can result in a life or death situation."

A spokesman for Nice said: "Nice is currently appraising lenalidomide (Revlimid) for the treatment of multiple myeloma and final guidance is due to be published in early 2009."


PEOPLE who tuck into a fry-up every day could have a 63% higher chance of developing bowel cancer, a charity warned today. Eating processed meats like sausages and bacon increases the risk while extra calories can lead to obesity, which is linked to many types of cancer, the charity World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) said.

The typical English breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes can contain 700 calories. Extras like black pudding and fried bread push the calorie content even higher while saturated fat is also known to contribute to the risk of heart disease.

It is appalling that myeloma patients cannot get access to life extending treatments

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.