Letters: Cancer drugs

NHS could save money with expensive new cancer drugs
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Sir: Thanks to Kasia Boddy for writing her article "The cost of living' (16 August) highlighting the urgent need for the NHS to start paying for the life-saving breast cancer drug Herceptin.

In June this year I too was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer which was positive for the Her 2 protein. Like Kasia I found the NHS treatment (at University College Hospitals London) to be speedy, efficient and caring and I was operated on within three weeks of diagnosis. I was particularly impressed with the amount of time that medical staff gave to explain treatment and answer the endless barrage of questions that I had.

As surgery revealed that my cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, I then met with a consultant oncologist. He told me about Herceptin, how it can reduce cancer recurrence rates by up to 50 per cent in cases such as mine, and about the cost (£30,000). Fortunately through my employment I am covered by BUPA, who recently agreed to fund herceptin for early-stage breast cancer. Once my BUPA cover became apparent my oncologist outlined another option that was now available to me - a different chemotherapy regime involving the drug Taxotere that has recently been shown to be more effective than the current standard NHS chemotherapy regime.

BUPA is funding Herceptin and Taxotere for economic reasons - advanced breast cancer patients are expensive to care for in terms of drugs, clinical staff and in-patient care. If you can prevent recurrence of breast cancer you save money. For the same reasons as well as the obvious moral case, the NHS must move with the pace of medical research in cancer treatment and approve and pay for drugs like Herceptin as soon as possible.



US still in denial over global warming

Sir: The headline of your 19 August article on global warming asks, "Will you listen now, America?" Some of us have been listening for quite a while, and pleading as best we can for action.

The sad fact, however, is that many more of us are determined to go right on ignoring any evidence of global warming's threat until it is too late. It is nice, in a small way, to see more American politicians (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, McCain) acknowledging the problem. But thus far, no one in mainstream American politics is actually taking the issue seriously, as evidenced by the feeble idea that "technology" will provide the solution to global warming.

We already have all the technology necessary to make drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It's called an off switch. It would, of course, cost quite a bit more to light our homes, get from place to place, cook our food etc. But that would simply be the real cost of doing those things in a sustainable manner, rather than relying on polluting technologies but passing their cost on to society as a whole.

In the meantime, I fear that at some point it must become a cruel joke to raise hopes over each new "sign" that America is going to take action on global warming. Until some obvious disaster occurs, we can pretend that there is still time to "prevent" global warming, but it is probably already too late. Changes to the climate are already more or less locked in for decades no matter what action we take; things are going to get a good deal worse before they get better. We will have to deal with all of that at the same time as we go on trying to stop the problem worsening. Thank you, obstructionists.

Mainstream news organisations in America have taken global warming no more seriously than the rest of the country. British journalists do a better job, but The Independent has been a cut above the rest. The frequency with which you address global warming is entirely appropriate to the seriousness of the problem. I thank you, and hope you will continue your good efforts.



Sir: Your headline "Will you listen now, America?", was accompanied by John McCain's question on climate change, "How much damage will be done before we start taking action?"

Whilst we sit in our comfortable homes, central heating and air conditioning drinking oil, our cars guzzling fuel and the average middle-class family making several air flights a year, what hypocrisy this all is!

A few years ago Sir John Houghton, speaking for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the Welsh Assembly that even if we could entirely stop carbon dioxide emission tomorrow, worldwide, then the present human-induced climate changes would continue for 50 years to a century, accompanied by their effect on sea-level.

Entirely? That means no travel, no industry, no electricity and a return to a medieval condition in which most of us would perish forty years younger and the developing world, better fitted to hardship, would no doubt wreak its well-deserved revenge on the dying civilisation of the West.

What about some reality? The worst-case scenarios could if necessary be coped with, but as is likely, if the predictions are nearer the lower end of the warming spectrum, then it would be far more cost-effective to spend our resources in the longer term moving vulnerable conurbations and educating toward population control and a proper relationship with the environment.

If the whole issue turns out to be a misplaced scare, the advantages of this alternative course are incalculable.



Sir: I was moved by your arresting front page. America is not alone in needing to change its attitude. Since "the evidence of climate change has become too stark to ignore" it is incumbent on us all to make difficult lifestyle changes.

Will you now dispense with your travel and motoring supplements (and pages advertising low-cost air travel and performance motor vehicles); remove the travel link from the top of your web pages or at least those pages recommending travel to destinations only reachable by air; ditto the motoring link; and stop wrapping your Saturday edition in a plastic bag.



Balance of power remains with men

Sir: Whilst everybody is entitled to ride their own hobby horse, it is disappointing that somebody as well-respected and influential as Michael Buerk has chosen such a dangerous one. The subliminal damage caused by suggesting that the "shift in the balance of power between the sexes" has gone too far should not be underestimated.

Organisations such as Fawcett and Women in Film & TV are constantly battling the myth that in today's society men and women are equal. They are not. Only 20 per cent of MPs are women, only 2 per cent of executive directors of the FTSE-100 are women and the hourly pay gap between the sexes stands at 20 per cent for full-time workers and 40 per cent for part-timers. Within the media, whilst there certainly have been a number of women in "big jobs" at the BBC, the notion that "almost all the big jobs in broadcasting were held by women" is blatantly untrue. On the creative side, only 12 per cent of British films were directed by a woman last year, and even worse, their share of the aggregate budget was only 3.6 per cent.

Choose any walk of life and there will be a statistic to show the balance of power is still very much with men. However, the crux of the matter is not that one sex wants to vest power from the other, it is that both sexes should be equal, in partnership with each other. Defensive carping by the likes of Mr Buerk do nothing to help reach this equilibrium.



Don't blame road charge for sales drop

Sir: The London Retail Consortium claims that the recent drop in sales, as a result of the terrorist attacks, is "compounded by the 60 per cent increase in the congestion charge" ("London retail sales plunged in aftermath of bombings", 16 August). In fact, 90 per cent of central London visitors come by public transport. Furthermore, since the congestion charge increase, there have been only 1,000-2,000 fewer cars per day paying the congestion charge.

So the 9 per cent sales drop has nothing to do with the congestion charge increase. Fear of terrorism is the cause, which I am working to overcome, with the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and many others across London.

The LRC's linking of their sales decline with the congestion charge does not help efforts to encourage people to visit central London by the most practicable means, which will remain public transport, partly funded by a congestion charge set at an appropriate level.



Sneering at the people's taste

Sir: It's very snobbish of Tom Lubbock to sneer at the peoples' choice of paintings ("Are these our 10 best paintings?", 16 August). Just as with the BBC's Big Read, the general public is encouraged to choose what paintings or books it likes, only to be put down by critics because Titian or Madame Bovary does not make it onto the list.

What is wrong with The Fighting Temeraire or 1984? These are things that are familiar and endearing to the general public; and it is frustrating to be patronised by some critic after being asked what I like in the first place. If you ask the general public what it likes in the arts, don't expect the high-brow and obscure, expect the pleasantly familiar.



Media studies vital for our democracy

Sir: As a teacher of A-level media studies I am used to the annual outpouring of derision upon the subject I teach. Ed Caesar's attack ("How is mise-en-scene used to create atmosphere on Blind Date" 16 August) is typical of the ignorance which prevails about what A-level media studies is actually about.

Most UK citizens in the 21st century get much of the information they they need to function from the mass media and young people learn the values of the society around them from consuming media products. Being able to deconstruct the messages they receive from TV and the press to identify the ideological assumptions behind them is an essential skill for students to acquire if they are to become informed citizens of a democracy.

The way Blind Date and other shows such as X-Factor and Big Brother ensnare their viewers with their slick editing, eye-catching sets and narrative hooks seems to me a perfect place to start looking if you are worried about voter apathy. Why is it that many people now care more about eviction night than election night?

Cultural commentators seem to labour under the misapprehension that media students are studying My Wife and Kids as if it were a work of art on a par with Shakespeare. What media studies actually does is to challenge students to see behind the slick veneer presented by much media output and arm them to become more discerning media users. Media studies is a young discipline and needs to develop but it is certainly not "useless".



Threat to bomb 'half the world'

Sir: So President Bush will not rule out force against Iran. This will inevitably mean the bombing of the major nuclear installation at Isfahan. Isfahan is not just an Iranian city: with its mosques, palaces, bridges, gardens it is one of the world's greatest heritage cities. Bombing it would be a crime against the whole civilised world, and the world must unite to prevent it.

The people of Isfahan have a saying: Isfahan nesf e jehan ("Isfahan is half the world"). I, who once lived there and love it, would always reply "Yes, and the most beautiful half." I remember an old peasant ploughing in a field beside the Great Mosque speaking of Alexander the Great, who passed through more than two millennia ago. With people like that and a heritage like that its survival for more millennia is vital to civilisation.



Look on the bright side

Sir: Since BA has not been making 550 flights a day in and out of Heathrow, we have enjoyed an unaccustomed week of clear skies to see the stars.



Not dumb enough

Sir: As a father struggling to maintain an aura of omniscience while "helping" my daughter with her maths homework - usually resorting to the old "you really need to be able to work this out yourself" gambit - I am appalled at the suggestion that the maths syllabus has been dumbed down!



Cycles of fear

Sir: Andrew Cosgrove (Letters, 19 August) really ought to consider who are the "asinine" ones. In Newcastle upon Tyne, where I work, squadrons of lads regularly pedal maniacally at you up the pavement hoping you'll flinch, while their more "grown-up" lycra-wearing cousins, hiding insouciantly behind their shades, slalom round pedestrianised areas thinking they can do anything as long as they don't actually hit you. Gladiatorial contest? Pedestrians to the lions more like!



Rich and poor

Sir: Two items in today's Independent (19 August) illustrate the obscenities that have to be addressed if we have any chance of creating a more equitable world. On page 34 is the moving picture of a Zimbabwean woman nursing her dying grandson. On page 6 is the story of an investment banker spending £41,000 to spray champagne around a London nightclub. Is it any surprise that capitalism, democracy and "freedom" are questioned by those who grow poorer at the expense of the rich?



Easy really

Sir: I was intrigued by all the correspondence, and being a Sudoku virgin, I have done all the puzzles for the last three days. The trick is to only enter the right number in the box and then you don't have to erase anything!