Beating bowel cancer together

Changes to bowel cancer treatments during the coronavirus pandemic

Page updated: Wednesday 4 January 2023

The NHS is focusing on making sure that care for patients continues to be safe, effective and holistic. This means that cancer diagnosis, treatment and care are continuing, and the NHS is working to ensure that these services return to operating as they did before. However, some services may be delivered in a slightly different way. This is for patient safety by using infection control measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help keep other services running.

Treatment breaks

During the pandemic, the rule stopping patients from taking a break from certain treatment will not be applied. This means that if you have advanced bowel cancer and you're being treated with drugs cetuximab and panitumumab, you're allowed to take a break from treatment for longer than six weeks.

If you do take a treatment break, you'll still have funding for treatment. Your healthcare team will discuss with you if this is best option for you.

If you and your healthcare team decide to start and stop treatment, you'll still be able to access the treatments again after a significant break.

The treatment break rule

The treatment break rule is NHS England's policy imposed on advanced bowel cancer drugs cetuximab and panitumumab. Before the pandemic, patients weren't allowed to take planned breaks from treatment with these drugs for longer than six weeks. If a patient took a treatment break longer than this, they would lose funding for treatment from NHS England.

This policy is currently suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the temporary changes to cancer care. This means that during the pandemic, those who want to take a break from treatment with cetuximab and panitumumab for longer than six weeks, can continue to do so without losing funding.

NHS England are developing a revised treatment break policy. These recommendations will be updated when it has been published. In the meantime, the policy will remain suspended.

This policy doesn't apply for those living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and so patients are allowed to take breaks for longer than six weeks without risk of losing funding during and after the pandemic.

See all our Coronavirus advice and guidance

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