The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

NHS to roll out new life-extending treatment for rare oesophagus cancer

Around 3,000 people will become eligible for the new treatment in the UK

Eleanor Noyce
Thursday 24 November 2022 10:19 GMT

Worried about signs that could be cancer? Contact your GP

The NHS is to roll out a life-extending drug to patients with a rare form of throat and stomach cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the use of Nivolumab – used to treat rare forms of gastroesophageal cancer - which will see around 3000 people eligible in the UK.

Nivolumab, also known as Opdivo, is a targeted immunotherapy designed to recognise and attach itself to a specific protein that can shut down the body’s immune system. The clinical evidence shows that, in blocking this action, 8 per cent of people achieve long-term remission compared to 4 per cent currently.

Gastroesophageal cancer includes tumours found anywhere in the oesophagus, sometimes called the gullet or food pipe, the stomach and where the oesophagus meets the stomach. At present, the most common treatments are surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs.

A clinical trial conducted by Bristol Myers Squibb – the company behind the drug – showed promising results amongst patients, studying 1581 cases of previously untreated advanced gastric cancer, gastroesophageal junction cancer and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

Of these, 789 patients were given a combination of Opdivo and chemotherapy, while 792 were given chemotherapy alone. Overall, the survival rates proved stronger with the combination therapy: at one year, half of the patients trialled on Opdivo and chemotherapy went almost eight months without their cancer spreading, growing or getting worse compared to six months on those on chemotherapy alone.

Helen Knight, interim director of medicines evaluation at NICE, said: “The combination of nivolumab plus chemotherapy not only has the potential to slow the disease down and extend life for people with these forms of cancer, but there is some promise of long-term remission.

“We know there is a significant impact on the quality of life for people with these forms of advanced cancer and therefore I’m delighted that we have been able to recommend this innovative treatment for people with these rare forms of gastroesophageal cancer.

“We are determined to drive ground-breaking treatments such as this into the hands of health and care professionals.”

On NICE’s approval, NHS national cancer director, Professor Peter Johnson said: “Cancer of the oesophagus is one of the most difficult to diagnose and treat and this new life-extending drug, used with chemotherapy, will give hope to thousands of people with this illness, allowing them to spend more time with loved ones, enjoy a better quality of life and in some cases help them become cancer-free.

“It is yet another example of the NHS using its commercial capabilities to deliver cutting-edge drugs, combined with our work to catch cancers earlier than ever before, straight to patients who need them – giving them the best chance of surviving cancer.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in