Mary Allison: Women with breast cancer don’t have time to wait

Mary Allison is calling for rapid changes in treatment
Mary Allison is calling for rapid changes in treatment
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Secondary breast cancer, in which the cancer has spread to the rest of the body, is currently incurable.

Women with secondary breast cancer in Scotland need more life-extending treatment options and they need them to be available quickly.

We welcome the Scottish Medicines Consortium’s (SMC) decision to approve everolimus, better known as Afinitor. However, the delays in accepting the drug highlight that we still have some way to go to effectively unlock life-extending treatments in this country.

A few years ago the SMC was reformed with a view to improve access to medicines. Even with this new system in place, everolimus (Afinitor) was only accepted at the second time of asking causing a six month delay for patients. This is time that women with incurable secondary breast cancer simply don’t have.

As we speak, the process for accessing drugs that extend life in Scotland is under review again. We welcome the review as we need to continue to make sure the process is improved and geared towards making the right decision first time around. Of course, pharmaceutical companies also have a big role to play in ensuring drugs are within reach of patients in Scotland – they need to be open to negotiation to unlock these drugs for patients.

At Breast Cancer Now, we have clear thoughts on improvements that can be made. First and foremost, we’re calling for the system to be more flexible and to have a negotiating mechanism.

Secondly, expert clinicians and patients should be able to give their views and answer questions at the final SMC decision making meeting. Currently, only drug companies can take part.

Taken as a package, these suggestions would mean that the system ensures patient and expert clinicians’ voices are fully heard – and allow for more robust discussions with drug companies to give patients the best chance of accessing new drugs on the NHS.

We have made great progress over the past two decades – and this latest SMC decision is without a doubt a step in the right direction. However, with more than 4,600 women diagnosed with breast cancer and around 1,000 people dying from the disease in Scotland each year, women don’t have time to wait.

That’s why we all need to work together – right now – with the SMC, drug companies, patients and clinicians to make sure women with breast cancer have more time to live.

Mary Allison is Director for Scotland at Breast Cancer Now