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Pancreatic cancer patients in Northern Ireland finally have access to life-extending treatment on the NHS

Posted by: Comms 24 October 2017

For the first time, eligible advanced pancreatic cancer patients in Northern Ireland have been granted access to the life-extending treatment, Abraxane, on the NHS.

Patients who are eligible for Abraxane will have been diagnosed too late for surgery, the only treatment for the disease which can save lives, to be an option. When pancreatic cancer spreads to other parts of the body, on average patients will live for up to six months, and they have very few treatment options. Today’s news is groundbreaking because this treatment can offer eligible patients the chance to live for another two months on average, and often much longer.

After a two-year wait, Abraxane was made available to patients in England on the NHS in August. The treatment, which is given to patients combined with standard chemotherapy, was already available on the NHS to patients in Wales and Scotland.

Anna Jewell, Director of Operations at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We are absolutely delighted that eligible patients in Northern Ireland can now benefit from this treatment on the NHS. For years we have been campaigning alongside patients, families and other charities for this treatment to be made routinely available across the UK. Eligible advanced patients in Northern Ireland now have the chance of living two months on average longer, which for many patients will mean that they live for twice as long.  

“We are incredibly proud that we’ve been able to help ensure another much-needed potential treatment is available for this tough disease, and would like to thank all our supporters in Northern Ireland for their help in making this happen.”

In Northern Ireland, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival of the 20 most common cancers, with about five per cent of patients living for five years or more after diagnosis (1). More than 200 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Northern Ireland each year.

Grainne O’Neill, aged 24 from Armagh, lost her mum Anne to pancreatic cancer aged just 54 in January 2014. Grainne said: “For years, alongside my family and friends I’ve supported the campaign to make Abraxane available to patients here, so I am so excited that it is now available. Mummy made the most of every day she had, but we lost her just seven months after she was diagnosed. I know only too well the huge difference that a couple more months would have made to all of us. I’m really glad that this treatment is now an option and some families in Northern Ireland will now have that chance of more precious time together.”

Abraxane was made available on the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) in England in March 2014, but in September 2015, NHS England announced that it was removing the treatment from the CDF list of approved drugs.

A month later, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) rejected Abraxane for long-term routine use on the NHS in England for people with advanced pancreatic cancer, stating it did not find the treatment to be cost effective. NICE then announced in May 2016 that it would bring forward the reappraisal of the treatment, which was originally scheduled for 2018. On 4th August 2017, NICE overturned its rejection of the treatment for NHS use in October 2015, after a revised agreement on the price of the drug, and more comprehensive evidence about its impact on patients' quality of life.

People affected by advanced pancreatic cancer can contact Pancreatic Cancer UK’s expert specialist nurses on the charity’s free Support Line, on Freephone 0808 801 0707 or nurse@pancreaticcancer.org.uk

This November you can help us continue the fight by joining our Purple Alert campaign.


(1)  Northern Ireland Cancer Registryhttp://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerInformation/official-statistics/BySite/Pancreas/