Cheaper drugs a life-saver for WA patients with rare cancer
WA PATIENTS diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer will get cheaper access to life-saving treatment from next month after a funding decision by the Federal Government.
An oral treatment for mantle cell lymphoma, which affects about 30 West Australians a year, is one of four life-changing cancer medicines to be made available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from August 1.
The $250 million investment means MCL sufferers, who pay up to $134,000 for a year’s treatment, will have to fork out just $6.40 per script. The once-a-day Imbruvica tablet treatment targets, reduces and in some cases kills cancerous cells.
Dr Chan Cheah, a consultant haematologist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, said the announcement was significant for patients, who would usually face chemotherapy side effects such as hair loss, a high risk of infection and nausea. He said the cost of Imbruvica had previously put it out of reach for most patients. “The government subsidy means life-prolonging therapy for people who would not otherwise be able to afford it,” Dr Cheah said.
The treatment works extremely well and is essentially effective in patients who have had their lymphoma come back after being treated with chemotherapy.”
Seven out of 10 people respond and it has very few side effects. It’s an important announcement.”
MCL is a rare and aggressive type of lymphoma that typically begins in the immune system’s disease-fighting lymph nodes around the neck, armpits and groin, but can spread to other tissues. such as the bone marrow, liver, spleen, gastrointestinal tract and even the spine and brain. Average survival is one to two years.
Dr Cheah said Perth patient Vic Dennis, who was diagnosed in October and immediately started chemotherapy, was responding well to a similar treatment to Imbruvica and was the type of patient who would significantly benefit.
What Mr Dennis had returned from a cruise through WA’s picturesque Kimberley when what he thought was a sore throat was diagnosed as something much more sinister.
“It was like having an avocado stone in your throat,” Mr Dennis said.
The 75-year-old has since returned to playing tennis and golf weekly and was yesterday at Optus Stadium supporting the Fremantle Dockers. He said the subsidy would lessen financial stress for patients already anxious from fighting an insidious disease.
“I made the mistake, when I first got diagnosed, of going to Dr Google and reading about Mantle Cel Lymphoma,” he said.
“It wasn’t a very pleasant read because the survival length of time wasn’t very good and I thought I’d hit the wall. But then I saw some of the costs and they were astronomical.”
The other three listings as part of the subsidy are Opdivo, Neulasta and Pegasys.