Help us to stop bowel cancer

New drugs now available for advanced bowel cancer patients

Today (Thursday 2 March) the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved two new drugs, cetuximab and panitumumab, for use on the NHS in England. These drugs will be prescribed for patients with advanced bowel cancer from today. Advanced bowel cancer is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs and is also known as stage 4, secondary or metastatic bowel cancer.

The drugs will work in two ways, either by shrinking the tumour so the patient can have surgery to remove it, or slow down the growth of the tumour to extend and enhance their quality of life.

Cetuximab and panitumumab are targeted therapies, which means they target a specific gene called the RAS gene. It’s vital that patients are tested for which type of RAS gene they have, as the drugs will only work in patients with a ‘normal’ RAS gene (known as RAS wild type). The drugs won’t work in patients with a fault or mutation in their RAS gene (RAS mutant).

Overall approximately 50% of people with bowel cancer will either be diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer or go on to develop it. Half of these will be RAS wild type and will now be eligible to receive these drugs via the NHS. 

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK, says:

“This announcement is very welcome as currently less than one in ten people with advanced bowel cancer survive for five years or more.  Ongoing access to these medicines is very important for treating people with advanced bowel cancer who have the RAS wild type gene as it offers hope for longer term survival and for some even the chance of a full remission. 

“The advancement of targeted therapies is an important development in the treatment of people with bowel cancer and is part of an ongoing shift from everyone receiving the same treatment to people beginning to receive treatment right for them based on their genetic profile. However, further research is needed to extend treatment options for all people with advanced bowel cancer in the future. 

“Currently people with advanced disease have limited treatments available to them on the NHS meaning lives are being cut short unnecessarily. People with advanced disease deserve better.

“This announcement falls in line with Scotland and Wales who have already approved these drugs. We urge Northern Ireland to do the same.”

If you have bowel cancer and would like to know if you can receive this type of treatment, please speak to your oncologist.

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