Women in England who are dying of cervical cancer are to receive a drug that could extend their lives by as much as four months.

Women with advanced cervical cancer will be able to get Avastin, which is also known as bevacizumab, after NHS England decided to fund courses of treatment with it for such patients, at the cost of about £23,295 per person.

The cash will come out of the Department of Health’s £200m-a-year Cancer Drugs Fund, which was started by the coalition to enable patients to access drugs which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the government’s official advisers, judges to be not cost-effective.

Avastin is already used to treat advanced forms of breast, lung, bowel, ovarian and kidney cancer. NHS England has now included it on the Cancer Drugs Fund’s list of approved medications for use by cervical cancer sufferers who are near the end of their lives.

Its decision means England is the first country in the world to make the drug available for such patients, it said.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the drug’s inclusion on the list was “very positive as for women who receive a late-stage diagnosis of cervical cancer, the prognosis can often be poor.

“When this is the case, any extra time that can be provided through new drugs becomes extremely valuable. We hope this will result in extended survival without impacting on quality of life for those facing non-curative treatment,” he added.

Around 2,900 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 1,000 die from a disease which has become increasingly common in the past decade.

NHS England acted after a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that Avastin used alongside chemotherapy could extend women’s lives by almost four months, from 13.3 months to 17 months, and by 30% compared with treatment with chemotherapy alone.

Its chemotherapy clinical reference group recommended the switch.

Drug firm Roche, which makes Avastin, said that “until now there have been limited clinical improvements for advanced disease, with patients only having a choice of traditional chemotherapies.”

Although clinical trials show that Avastin can have side effects such as fatigue, diarrhoea and high blood pressure, most are manageable, it added.

Source: The Guardian