Lung cancer drugs approved
Drugs to help terminally ill lung cancer patients lead a better quality of life should be made widely available on the NHS, it has been decided.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance recommending the use of several types of chemotherapy for the treatment of an advanced stages of a form of the condition known as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
NICE says that treatment of these patients is often poor in the UK.
It believes the more widespread use of the new drugs could significantly improve patients' quality of life.
NICE has recommended the use of gemcitabine (brand name Gemzar), paclitaxel (Taxol), and vinorelbine (Navelbine) as part of initial chemotherapy treatment for patients with advanced NSCLC.
It has also recommended the use of docetaxel (Taxotere) for patients who have failed to respond to other forms of chemotherapy.
Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer with 40,700 new cases annually in the UK.
It accounts for almost a quarter of all cancer deaths, with over 30,000 deaths each year in England and Wales. NSCLC accounts for about 80% of these cases.
However, the UK currently spends the least amount of money on drug treatment and mortality figures are the worst in Europe. Over 80% of patients with NSCLC die within a year of diagnosis, and only about 5% survive for five years.
Andrew Dillon, NICE chief executive, said: "Lung cancer is the most common cancer in England and Wales and outcomes for patients are generally poor.
"The appropriate use of these drugs offers those patients who benefit from them additional months of life."
Dr. Jesme Baird, Director of Patient Care, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation welcomed the guidance.
She said: "Management of patients with advanced NSCLC varies enormously in the UK, I hope that the NICE guidance will act as a catalyst for the rapid and widespread usage of these newer chemotherapeutic agents.
"It will be vital for patients that health authorities ensure that funding is made available as soon as possible so that patients can benefit from this exciting news."
Brad Timms, Science Information Officer at The Cancer Research Campaign, said: "This ruling should help eliminate the variation of treatment across the country."
Dr Mike Leahy, senior consultant at Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Cancer Medicine Research Unit in Leeds, said: "This is very welcome news and represents a new level of recognition of the place of chemotherapy in this disease.
"Lung cancer can rarely be cured by chemotherapy but patients may obtain a worthwhile palliative benefit."
Dr Jane Maher, chief medical officer at the charity Macmillan Cancer Relief, warned that chemotherapy funding must not divert resources away from other aspects of cancer care, such as providing information, symptom control and specialist services.
There are two broad types of lung tumour, usually classified as small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which accounts for about 20% of cases, and non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
There are three types of NSCLC: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma, however there are no differences in the way that they are treated.
Cigarette smoking is by far the most important cause of lung cancer, accounting for over 80% of cases.
Other contributing factors include exposure to radon gas, occupational hazards, particularly exposure to asbestos, a diet low in fruit and vegetables and air pollution.
Both Taxol and Taxotere, are more commonly used as treatments for breast cancer.