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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Breast cancer drugs approved
breast scan
Women with advanced breast cancer could benefit
The NHS should pay for two drugs designed to fight advanced breast cancer, a government advisory body has said.

Only a small proportion of women with the disease actually get the drugs, called taxanes, because some health authorities are both unwilling to pay their high cost, and sceptical about their benefits.

Taxane drugs are expensive
The phenomenon of different treatments available in different parts of the country is known as "postcode prescribing".

However, the ruling, from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) should mean the drug will soon be made available on the NHS.

Nice has already advised that the drug Taxol, one of the taxane family, should be used to treat ovarian cancer.

The ruling on Taxol, and another drug Taxotere, for breast cancer has been welcomed, although one charity is still critical of the government's approach.

Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "This is the first step towards ending postcode prescribing.

"The next crucial step is for doctors to make all women who might benefit from these drugs aware of them. But for some women this decision is too little, too late."

'Funding needed'

"Women deserve the best possible treatment and care, but the government has still to get the basics right.

"Only last weekend we heard that the availability of radiotherapy for cancer patients varied drastically across the country."

She called on the government to now make sure enough funds were available to health authorities to pay for the drugs.

A year's course of taxanes costs several thousand pounds.

However, clinical studies have shown that it significantly prolongs the lives of ovarian cancer sufferers, and there is evidence that it improves survival rates from advanced breast cancer.

This means breast cancer which has spread beyond the breast and returned after initial treatment.

Elisabeth Davies, of the UK Breast Cancer Coalition, said: "Only a small proportion of women in the UK who could be treated with a taxane for their breast cancer are currently receiving this therapy on the NHS, even though these treatments have been demonstrated to provide significant patient benefits."

Dr David Miles, breast cancer specialist with Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "What's important is that women with breast cancer get the best possible treatment and the Nice recommendations have ensured that will happen. Imperial Cancer Research Fund is pleased that taxoids are now recommended for women and what we have to now consider is how it is funded."

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