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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Breast cancer patients in new hope

Women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer from Wednesday are to be tested to see if they are suitable for treatment with the life-saving drug Herceptin, the Government announced.

The Department of Health said the move meant the lives of 1,000 women a year in England could be saved - the same number saved by the national breast screening programme.

But women who have been diagnosed before Wednesday will not be automatically tested for the HER2 receptor, which indicates whether a patient may benefit from Herceptin, the DoH said.

Herceptin is controversial because many women are unable to access the drug. Currently, it is only licensed for use in advanced breast cancer, although doctors can use their discretion to prescribe it in other exceptional cases.

An application for a licence for its use in early breast cancer is expected to be submitted by makers Roche in February next year.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said that from Wednesday all women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer would be tested for suitability for treatment with Herceptin. This means that once the drug receives its licence, it will be fast-tracked for use throughout the NHS.

Read more: Breast cancer patients in new hope


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