Thousands of people with cancer can benefit from ‘COVID friendly’ treatments from home, the NHS announced today.

More than 30 different drugs are available to treat patients, offering benefits such as fewer hospital visits or a reduced impact on their immune system.

Around 8,000 people have already benefitted from the treatment ‘swaps’ since April helping to maintain cancer treatment in the face of coronavirus with more than 250,000 people starting treatment for cancer since the start of the pandemic.

The NHS is funding effective and less risky treatment ‘swaps’ for patients during the pandemic, and patient access to these drugs will now be extended until the summer, with the potential to extend until the end of March next year.

Targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma – bone marrow cancer – are among the options available for clinicians to choose from.

For ovarian cancer, some patients can receive trametinib as a tablet alternative to chemotherapy and so reduce the impact on their immune systems.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to using cutting edge treatment and technology to save and improve patients’ lives.

The COVID-friendly cancer treatments are among a string of NHS innovations that have helped patients to access treatment safely throughput the pandemic.

The NHS also made up to 10,000 chemo deliveries to patients’ doorsteps during the first wave of the virus, introduced COVID-secure surgery hubs and fast tracked stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) which requires five doses rather than up to 30 with standard radiotherapy, cutting the number of hospital visits that potentially vulnerable cancer patients need to make.

NHS England has also introduced new ways of testing patients for cancer including by piloting mini cameras that patients can swallow to test for bowel cancer.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer said: “Cancer has been a priority throughout the pandemic which is why NHS staff have fast-tracked patient access to more convenient and kinder treatments to provide as many people as possible with safe and effective care, even as the NHS cared for more than 380 000 people seriously ill with Covid.

“Extending the use of ‘Covid friendly’ treatments for cancer is another example of how we are embracing the full range of treatment options and bringing the NHS to patients at home in many cases.

“If you have a worrying symptom, please do come forward and get checked – the NHS is ready and here to treat you. Cancer is easier to treat when it’s caught at an earlier stage and coming forward for a check could save your life.”

Recent analysis showed that when NHS England introduced the new cancer therapies, it boosted the number of people having cancer treatments during the pandemic, when treatment might otherwise have been delayed or not safe to give at all.

Treatment options also include:

  • Venetoclax in acute myeloid leukaemia as an oral alternative to more toxic standard chemotherapy
  • Nivolumab or pembrolizumab for patients with bowel cancer whose cancers have a specific genetic fingerprint
  • Ixazomib in myeloma as an oral alternative to treatment which would require more hospital visits and injections
  • Atezolizumab as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy.

The NHS put in place a £160 million initiative last year so that people with cancer could benefit from alternative, more covid friendly treatments.

Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This flexible approach to access to cancer drugs is to be welcomed, particularly during a global pandemic. It ensures that women with a rare type of ovarian cancer have access to the best possible treatments for them, bringing hope to a lot of families at a very difficult time.”

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