The number of cancer patients raising money for treatment not available on the NHS has risen by seven times in the last year, data has shown.
Doctors have expressed concern that patients may be spending huge sums on inappropriate drugs, but Mo Haque, who raised £200,000 for a new and potentially life-saving treatment, told The Independent he saw “no other alternative”.
“For me it was a last resort,” said the 34-year-old from north London, who was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer in December 2014. “I had a year of NHS treatment, 18 cycles of chemotherapy, but the disease progressed into the lymph nodes.”
When Mr Haque was told there were no more treatment options available to him on the NHS, his oncologist submitted a request to the health service to try immunotherapy, a new type of treatment that boosts the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
Immunotherapy drugs are at varying stages of research. They are already used on the NHS to treat advanced skin cancer and some cases of lung cancer.
But Mr Haque’s request was refused and he was encouraged by a friend to set up a crowdfunding page to raise money to pay for the drug, which costs around £6,500 every three weeks, privately.
Cancer patients or their friends and relatives set up 2,348 appeals on crowdfunding site JustGiving in 2016, raising more than £4.5m in total – up from £530,000 in 2015, reported the BBC.
Immunotherapy was the most popular treatment crowdfunded on JustGiving last year.
Consultant oncologist Dr Clive Peedell told the broadcaster it was “very worrying” to see the rise in patients raising money for their own treatment, as the vast majority of proven, effective cancer drugs were available on the NHS.
“It would be interesting to review all the cases to find out how many are genuinely appropriate. I worry that some patients may be trying to access treatment that may not be beneficial,” he said.
“Worse still, there may be significant extra costs involved, especially if patients pay privately or travel abroad.”
Mr Haque said since starting the treatment, which he has had as a self-funded patient at the Macmillan Cancer Centre at London’s University College Hospital, his tumours had shrunk by an average of 50 per cent.
He said he feels “really good” and without the treatment, “I wouldn’t have been able to go out for evenings… I would have been too weak, a lot of dizzy spells, the fatigue, and the pain. Untreated, I may not have been here, is the harsh truth.”
13 ways to help prevent cancer
13 ways to help prevent cancer
Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year
Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it
A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women
Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes
Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year
Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own
Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups
Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year
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Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers
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Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers
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Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research
Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year
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Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer
“Where there are no NHS options, it’s like ‘what can you do?’ There’s no other alternative, there is no choice – you either get no treatment and have the eventuality of dying, or you at least try something,” said Mr Haque, who has begun campaigning with health management firm Alivia for a greater range of cancer treatment options.
An NHS England spokesperson told the BBC it was providing £200m of funding to improve local cancer services.
They said the NHS has launched a “new-look cancer drugs fund, meaning patients will be able to access promising, new and innovative treatments much quicker” with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
“More people than ever before are surviving cancer thanks to improved NHS care,” they added.
The first immunotherapy treatment for metastatic bladder cancer has been fast-tracked under the Early Access for Medicines Scheme, it was announced last week.
Atezolizumab will now be available to patients with advanced bladder cancer that develops from the cells of the bladder lining, but only if they have already had chemotherapy.Reuse content