The NHS is to roll out ‘covid-friendly’ cancer drugs in bid to beat the backlog of treatment which is putting lives at risk.

Cancer services have been dramatically impacted by lockdown, and the reallocation of health resources for coronavirus.

Many patients have seen chemotherapy paused because the treatment is so toxic that it depletes the immune system and puts people at much greater risk from coronavirus.

Now the government has sped up approval for state-of-the-art drugs which are far safer for patients and allow treatment to continue.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has announced £160 million funding for drugs that have a lesser impact on the immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.

Patients may now be able to take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side-effects instead of undergoing grueling hospital-based treatment that can leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

Sir Simon, said: “We are now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the Covid-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system.”

Doctors will now be able to prescribe drugs such as the target hormone therapy enzalutamide for prostate cancer and lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma – bone marrow cancer. 

The drug Venetoclax can now be used in acute myeloid leukaemia and Ixazomib in myeloma as tablets alternative standard chemotherapy. Atezolizumab can now be used as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy.

Charities have consistently warned that cancer patients are being severely affected by the pandemic.   Modelling by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in May estimated that delays to cancer surgery and other treatment could result in thousands of additional deaths.

The ICR warned that patients whose cancer will have progressed during the delay and who might otherwise have been effectively cured by surgery could now be at risk of their cancer coming back and shortening their lives.

Target Ovarian Cancer said more than half of women with ovarian cancer said their treatment had been impacted by coronavirus.

Cancer Research UK said that by the end of May that 2.4 million patients had missed appointments or tests due to Covid-19. 

University College London (UCL) also calculated that changes to cancer care could result in 6,270 more deaths this year among newly diagnosed cancer patients alone.

New analysis shows that these less risky but effective cancer therapies have been given to almost 2,000 people during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing their treatment to go ahead when it might otherwise have been delayed or not safe to give at all.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK said: “It is encouraging to see how the NHS and industry have worked together during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide access for bowel cancer treatment that can be taken safely from home, and minimize the impact on patients’ immune systems.

“We hope this nimble approach to treatment access will result in quicker decision making in the future, should treatments be deemed safe and effective for patients.”

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