Patients not getting targeted cancer drugs

Patients not getting targeted cancer drugs

The report focuses on the NHS’s molecular diagnostic testing service for cancer patients in England.

These tests can identify the genetic faults underpinning a patient’s cancer, some of which can be hit with targeted therapies.

Cancer Research UK’s report focused on patients with skin, lung and bowel cancer, where targeted drugs are already available on the NHS.

It was estimated that in 2014, more than 24,000 molecular diagnostic tests were not carried out in hospitals across England. In lung and bowel cancers alone, around 16,000 eligible patients were not offered these tests.

The report says that around a quarter of these patients could have been given targeted treatments, meaning an estimated 3,500 lung and bowel cancer patients missed out on medicines that could have changed the course of their disease.

These tests were missed because of the cost involved (there is no dedicated funding available for them) and doctors’ poor awareness of targeted treatments and testing, said the authors.

However, molecular diagnostic tests have been available since 2008, and the government made a commitment in its 2011 cancer strategy to develop a national commissioning structure for the tests.

The charity said this promised structure had still not been introduced and was featured again in the recently published cancer strategy for England.

The new report – commissioned by Cancer Research UK and produced by health consultancy Concentra – estimates that at least a further £13million is needed to meet the demand for tests and make sure the services keep up to date.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “It’s lamentable that routine molecular diagnostic testing still hasn’t been established, more than two years after we showed how it can be done with our stratified medicine programme.

“Despite much talk about innovation in care, the NHS is once again lagging behind, and patients aren’t getting tested to see if they might benefit from new types of treatment.

“Molecular diagnostic tests can help doctors to choose more tailored treatments that may improve survival for their patients, allow patients to take part in clinical trials and potentially reduce side effects from less effective treatments: they are not an optional extra.”

Emma Greenwood, the charity’s head of policy, said: “We need to see greater investment and leadership from NHS England to organise national commissioning of molecular diagnostic testing.

“In order to make sure thousands of patients don’t continue to miss out, it’s essential that the government acts on the recommendations in the new cancer strategy, which calls for NHS England to properly commission these tests.”

By Adrian O'Dowd

On Medica, 20 August 2015

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