Postcode lottery over prostate cancer drug

THOUSANDS of prostate cancer sufferers in Scotland are facing a "postcode lottery" over a new treatment for the disease.

The drug Zometa, has not been approved for use in Scotland, despite being available in England and other EU countries.

The Scottish Association of Prostate Cancer Support Groups claims patients are being denied treatment and has written to every MSP in protest. It says their investigations show that the treatment is being prescribed in some parts of Scotland but not others.

Studies have shown the drug to be 1000 times more powerful than other currently used drugs in reducing bone pain and destruction suffered by men with prostate cancer which spreads to the skeleton.

But the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which gives advice about newly licensed medicines, has not approved the drug for prostate cancer, although it is used for breast cancer and bone marrow cancer patients.

Norman Best, president of the Scottish Association of Prostate Cancer Support Groups, said: "We fail to understand why the SMC has not recommended the use of Zometa in the treatment of bone metastases [the spread of cancer to the bone] following prostate cancer."

Glasgow’s main cancer centre, the Beatson Institute, has stated it disagrees with the SMC’s decision and is prescribing the treatment using strict guidelines for patients they feel will benefit as Zometa is not effective in every case.

The SMC’s decision does not prevent health boards from prescribing the treatment, leading to a postcode lottery surrounding its availability.

The bones are the most common area prostate cancer spreads to, and one study estimated that 65 to 75 per cent of prostate and breast cancers spread to the skeleton.

Charles Swainson, medical director of NHS Lothian’s university hospitals division, said: "We follow the ruling of the Scottish Medicines Consortium and, as it has not been approved for prescribing in Scotland, Zometa would not be used for the treatment of the skeletal effects of prostate cancer. It is, however, used in other cancers including bone marrow myeloma and breast cancer."

A spokesman for the Scottish Medicines Consortium said: "The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) approved Zometa for patients with breast cancer and multiple myeloma in May 2003.

"SMC did not recommend Zometa for the treatment of skeletal-related events in patients with advanced prostate cancer or non-small cell lung cancer as the applicant company, Novartis, failed to provide any evidence of its cost effectiveness for these conditions."

SNP health spokeswoman Shona Robison today said she had written to both Health Minister Andy Kerr and the Scottish Medicines Consortium asking for the decision to be reversed.

"It leaves health boards in a very difficult position and it seems to me that the system is a dog’s breakfast," she added.

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