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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
'Smart' cancer pill wins NHS approval
Breast tumour
The drug is used to target breast cancers
The NHS's drugs watchdog has said a "smart" chemotherapy pill should be available for patients with advanced breast and bowel cancer.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended patients should be offered capecitabine.

Breast and bowel cancer are two of the most common cancers, affecting up to 64,000 people in the UK each year.

Capecitabine (brand name Xeloda) is a "smart pill", designed to target cancer cells more specifically than traditional chemotherapy drugs, avoiding "collateral damage" to healthy cells.

We know from our discussions with patients who have taken oral chemotherapy, that there is strong support for this form of treatment
Jola Gore-Booth, Colon Cancer Concern
This damage leads to side effects such as nausea and hair loss. Patients using capecitabine report fewer side effects.

For patients with advanced breast cancer, NICE has recommended capecitabine should be used on its own, or in combination with another drug, docetaxel, (Taxotere) if the first choice treatment has failed or is unsuitable.

It recommended it should be used in combination with two other drugs, tegafur with uracil, for bowel cancer.

NICE said patients must be involved in the choice about what medicine they should take.

It also said the use of these drugs had to be supervised by an oncologist who specialised in the specific cancer being treated.

Improved options

Anne-Toni Rodgers, spokeswoman for NICE said: "Breast and bowel cancer are two of the most common cancers, affecting around 33,000 and 31,000 people each year respectively.

"Today's guidance sits alongside existing NICE guidance on the use of drugs to treat these conditions and improves the options available to people with cancer.

"We are now combining a number of these recommendations on medicines for cancer with the development of wider clinical guidelines covering the treatment and care of people with cancer."

Chris Twelves, professor of translational research and drug development at the University of Bradford, said: "Because it is a pill, it can be taken at home, which means fewer hospital visits for patients and less pressure on hospital units."

Quality of life

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "This is good news as it increases the treatment options available to women.

"For women with advanced breast cancer living as normal a life as possible is vital.

"Capecitabine tablets offer a degree of freedom from conventional chemotherapies administered in hospital, and may have a significant impact on the quality of life of women with advanced breast cancer."

Jola Gore-Booth, chief executive of Colon Cancer Concern said: "We know from our discussions with patients who have taken oral chemotherapy, that there is strong support for this form of treatment.

"Patients find oral chemotherapy convenient and easy to take; that the treatment has fewer side effects than they expected; and that it enables them to live fuller and more normal lives."

Elizabeth Smith, clinical services manager at Breast Cancer Care, also welcomed the decision.

"It is a positive and empowering step for women to become active participants in their own care."

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