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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
NHS green light for prostate drug
Pills
The drug blocks cell division
A drug that can extend the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer has been approved for widespread NHS use.

Taxotere was originally developed to treat breast cancer.

It has been found to extend survival time by 25% over the standard treatment for men no longer responding to hormone therapy, and cuts pain and weight loss.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) ruled the drug should be made available to all eligible men in England and Wales.

I think what will happen is that the drug will become available but to highly selected patients
Professor Nick James

More than 30,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK each year, and around 10,000 die from it.

Thousands of men with disease that has spread could now qualify for the drug.

Primary Care Trusts (PCT) have 90 days in which to comply with the guidance.

Expensive

However, there are fears that the high cost of the drug - around 7,000 for a single course - could mean that some will still be denied.

Hormone therapies are typically used to treat prostate cancer, but they usually only work for up to three years.

With no further treatment, a patient might expect to live for about another year.

Another drug, mitoxantrone can help - but has been out-performed by Taxotere in trials.

The drug, known technically as docetaxel, works by blocking the mechanism that allows cells to divide.

Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at the Prostate Cancer Charity, said the Nice decision was a major step forward.

"Until now there has not been a treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer which could extend their lives and reduce their pain.

"We hope this chemotherapy drug will be made immediately available via the NHS to all men with prostate cancer across the UK who could benefit from it, and that no man is denied it on cost grounds."

Slow implementation

Professor Nick James, consultant clinical oncologist at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, agreed that the move was a "significant leap forward".

But he did not expect to see every eligible patient immediately given access.

He said: "We know that some trusts are giving virtually none of these patients chemotherapy, and in addition to the actual cost of the treatment you've got to have enough doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

"I think what will happen is that the drug will become available but to highly selected patients.

"PCTs can keep to the letter of the law but not the spirit - you can comply with Nice guidance by giving only one patient treatment.

"I suspect this recommendation will be implemented as slowly as possible."

Taxotere can cause side effects such as flushing, skin rash, chest tightness, back pain, anaemia, nausea, sore mouth and taste change, diarrhoea, hair loss, hypersensitivity and tiredness.


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