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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 15:34 GMT
Woman's 30,000 cancer drug bill
Kay Rowlands
Mrs Rowlands has had to spend her retirement funds on the drug
A teacher with an aggressive form of breast cancer is facing a bill of up to 30,000 because she cannot get a drug which could help her on the NHS.

Kay Rowlands, 58, from Swansea was told she should take Herceptin, which research has found can prevent tumours recurring if taken early on.

Mrs Rowlands has discovered she would be eligible for funding for the drug if she lived 10 miles away.

Swansea Local Health Board says it has followed drug commissioning guidelines.

Researchers in the US have recently discovered the risk of tumours recurring with certain types of breast cancer can be cut by up to 50% if Herceptin is taken in the early stages of the disease.

Having the illness itself is a very distressing situation, so having that bill overhead makes it even more stressful
Kay Rowlands

At present in the UK, Herceptin is only routinely prescribed on the NHS to women with advanced breast cancer.

Local health boards (LHBs) have discretion to fund it in other cases, but Swansea is not one of those which does.

She told BBC Radio Wales: "The type of cancer I've got is Her-2 positive and my oncologist in Singleton Hospital advised me that the drug Herceptin would be beneficial to me.

"He also said the drug wasn't available on the NHS. I asked him a direct question, 'Should I have the drug?' and he said yes.

"The drug itself costs 20,000. The administrative costs on top could make it 30,000."

Mrs Rowlands, who will be finishing work soon, said she was forced to use money which should have been part of her retirement fund.

"I had no choice. Because my cancer was so aggressive, I need to have the best chance I can have."

It's obscene that women could be allowed to die prematurely because the NHS won't pay for Herceptin
Dot Griffiths, Women Fighting For Herceptin website

She added if she lived further west in Llanelli, or east in Neath, she would have been funded for the drug.

"Having the illness itself is a very distressing situation, so having that bill overhead makes it even more stressful," she said.

Swansea LHB said it commissioned the use of Herceptin in line with National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines and its product licence.

'Local priorities'

"The LHB will also consider the extended use of Herceptin in line with any national guidance issued by the Welsh assembly government, NICE, and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group," it said in a statement.

The assembly government said there was nothing to prevent LHBs commissioning Herceptin, but added: "It would, however, need to be weighed against other local priorities at this early stage before full evaluation."

It said it would be a number of months before the drug was licensed for this purpose in England and Wales.

Dot Griffiths, who runs the Women Fighting For Herceptin website, stressed Mrs Rowlands had had to pay for Herceptin because she needed the drug now.

"If she leaves it any later, the cancer will return and eventually kill her," she said.

"It's obscene that women could be allowed to die prematurely because the NHS won't pay for it."


SEE ALSO:
Woman makes Herceptin court bid
21 Dec 05 |  Wiltshire
Woman, 38, wins cancer drug fight
18 Nov 05 |  Cambridgeshire


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