An injection that cuts the amount of time breast cancer patients spend in hospital from two and a half hours to as little as five minutes is being rolled out across the country by NHS England.
Breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy will be offered a new combined treatment called PHESGO, which is injected and takes as little as five minutes to prepare and administer, compared with two infusions that can take up to two and a half hours.
More than 3,600 new patients each year will benefit from the treatment, as well as others who will switch from the treatment they are on to the single injection, following an NHS deal with the manufacturer.
The injection will be offered to eligible people with HER2-positive breast cancer, which accounts for 15% of all breast cancers, and can be given alongside chemotherapy or on its own.
The five-minute jab significantly cuts the Covid infection risk for cancer patients by reducing the amount of time spent in hospital and frees up time for clinicians in chemotherapy units.
The announcement is the latest in a series of innovations in cancer care during the pandemic, including Covid-secure surgery hubs that were set up across the country and £160 million invested by NHS England in ‘covid-friendly’ cancer drugs, that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.
Since the start of the pandemic, 228,000 people have started NHS treatment for cancer, 95% of whom did so within a month. Hospitals across England have also carried out more than two cancer procedures for every patient they treated for coronavirus last year.
Care providers were told they could begin offering the treatment in February and the agreement between the health service, NICE and the manufacturer means it comes at no extra cost to the NHS.
Paula Lamb, 51, who is a housewife from Newton-le-Willows, is one of the first patients to receive the treatment. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and then developed secondary lung and liver cancers and is receiving treatment at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.
She said: “I’m currently on a combination of medications which take about an hour and a half to two hours to administer all together, and I have to go in to hospital to have them every three weeks.
“It feels absolutely amazing to be one of the first people to receive this treatment through the NHS and it really could not have come at a better time as lockdown lifts and I can stop shielding. Having a five minute treatment means I’ll have more time to get out on walks, for my gardening, knitting and to help my daughter practise her cricket skills. It’s a real life-changer.”
NHS national clinical director for cancer, Peter Johnson, said: “The NHS has continued to adopt new treatments rapidly throughout the pandemic, to improve cancer care for patients. This new injection, which can substantially cut treatment time for people with breast cancer, is the latest in a series of changes which have meant the NHS has been able to deliver vital cancer treatment while keeping patients safe from Covid.
“I am delighted that this is now available to people having breast cancer treatment, limiting the time they need to spend in hospital and giving the NHS another way to continue treating as many cancer patients as possible, as we have done throughout the pandemic.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “Approval of Phesgo being used on the NHS in England is fantastic news as thousands of women with HER2 positive breast cancer will now benefit from a quicker and kinder treatment method.
“Reducing the time patients need to spend in hospital, this more efficient treatment method also promises to free up precious time for healthcare professionals when the NHS is already under unprecedented strain due to COVID-19.
“Today’s announcement reflects the latest of continued advances in breast cancer treatment, and now we hope to see Roche and NHS decision-makers working together to ensure Phesgo is rapidly made available across all of the UK so that even more patients and healthcare professionals alike can reap its benefits.”
Richard Eaton, Breast Cancer Lead at Roche Products Limited said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need to use novel approaches that help to minimise pressure on our healthcare system.
“We are delighted that people in England will continue to benefit from the latest advancements in cancer care, and this news shows how we are advancing science to achieve this.”
- PHESGO is a fixed-dose combination of pertuzumab with trastuzumab that previously would have been given as separate IV infusions.
- The NHS has prioritised cancer care during the coronavirus pandemic and the latest figures show that hospitals carried out more than two cancer treatments for every patient they treated for COVID-19.
- In December alone, more than 25,000 patients were treated for cancer and more than 200,000 people came forward for checks
- More than 228,000 people have started treatment for cancer during the pandemic.
January also saw 171,231 cancer referrals – more than double the number in April – with 22,942 patients beginning treatment, up more than 2,000 on the April COVID peak.