Women die `to save NHS pounds 7,500 a year'

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The Independent Online
A CANCER DRUG that can buy women an extra year of life for pounds 7,500 should no longer be denied to those who need it, a group of doctors and patient organisations said yesterday.

The drug, Taxol, has been shown to extend the lives of women with advanced ovarian cancer by at least 10 months but many do not get it because their local health authorities regard it as too expensive. Results from the largest clinical trial released in the US yesterday confirm that when combined with platinum, it could postpone the premature deaths of many of the 6,000 women who develop the cancer in the UK each year if it was more widely prescribed.

A statement issued by the group yesterday called for an end to "postcode rationing" and wide variations in standards of care.

Jean Mossman, chief executive of CancerBacup, the patient support service, said: "To face a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is bad enough. To face it knowing that a patient in another part of the country can enjoy better treatment and potentially better survival must be heartbreaking."

Dr Hilary Thomas, senior lecturer in clinical oncology at Hammersmith Hospital, west London, said: "We are talking about pounds 7,500 per patient. That's the cost of a small car. The idea that pounds 7,500 is too much for an extra year of life is ridiculous."

Ovarian cancer is the fourth commonest cause of cancer death in women, claiming 4,000 lives a year in the UK. The position of the ovaries deep in the abdomen makes early diagnosis difficult. Most sufferers are not diagnosed until the disease is well advanced. The standard treatment is removal of the ovaries, plus chemotherapy, but when the cancer has spread only one in five patients survives five years.

Dr Patrick Therasse, director of the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer Data Centre said: "With this new regimen taken as reference, we could extend the life expectancy of 7,000 women in Europe each year."