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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 00:58 GMT
Two sides of the Herceptin lottery
X-rays
Some women with breast cancer could benefit
The goverment is to investigate the cancer postcode lottery to see why patients in some areas can get the treatment they need - while patients elsewhere cannot.

The breast cancer drug Herceptin is one of those patients can have to fight for.

BBC News Online looks at two cases in which women battled to get the treatment - with very different outcomes.


Michelle Hilton, from Blackburn in Lancashire, died in September 2001 after a three-year fight against breast cancer.

She was just 37, and the mother of two girls - aged 15 and 12.

Her husband Barry believes that had she received Herceptin earlier, she might be alive today.

He told BBC News Online: "Michelle was diagnosed three years ago, and I first heard about Herceptin on the internet, on an American site.

"We immediately went to the hospital and asked them whether she could have the drug.

"But they said that it was not currently available in the UK.

"They said that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was looking at it, and their decision should be available by September 2000.

"But that deadline kept moving back and back."

The doctors there were well aware of how important it was - they knew women were dying because of the delay

As his wife's condition gradually worsened, his anger at the delays mounted.

"She always felt positive - even without the Herceptin. I felt very angry at what was happening.

"Although there were other avenues of treatment, there came a time when Herceptin was her last resort."

Michelle was under the care of the Christie Hospital in Manchester, which was also battling hard for the drug to be funded.

Barry said: "The doctors there were well aware of how important it was. They knew women were dying because of the delay."


Dorothy Griffith is 55 years old and lives in Stoke-on-Trent.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1999, and the disease kept coming back, despite gruelling courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

After a protracted campaign, she managed to get Herceptin paid for by the NHS, and says it has made an enormous difference to her quality of life.

She told BBC News Online: "A woman in my condition shouldn't have to be fighting the system like this.

"I was exhausted - some days I couldn't get out of bed.

"I've got the drug now, and it's wonderful. I've got so much more energy.

I've got the drug now, and it's wonderful - I've got so much more energy

"I know my prognosis is still terminal, but this has made so much difference. My doctor told me that without Herceptin, the disease would have probably spread to my liver and my bones - the Grim Reaper would be knocking."

Her anger at being refused Herceptin was fuelled by the knowledge that other women, perhaps less than an hour's drive away, were getting the drug paid for.

Her letter-writing campaign included politicians, the press and local health bosses, and eventually the hospital itself decided to pay for her treatment.

These women should be having this drug - I look at them and see them deteriorating

But this did not alter the fact that her new friends in the cancer ward were no better off.

"These women should be having this drug. I look at them and see them deteriorating.

"And all the time the drug is sitting in a cabinet a few feet away, but they can't have it."

See also:

15 Mar 02 | Health
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