Hundreds of patients are to benefit from at-home cancer care and treatment swaps to reduce their risk of Covid-19, the NHS has announced.
The health service has been using a variety of so-called “Covid-19-friendly” cancer treatments which means that some patients who are at the highest risk if they become infected can have treatment at home.
The service is also offering treatment “swaps” to help patients with cancer throughout the crisis, including ones that lead to fewer hospital visits or a reduced impact on a patient’s immune system.
So far around 8,000 people have been given “treatment swaps” since the beginning of the pandemic.
And more than 10,000 rounds of chemotherapy have been administered to patients in the comfort of their own home.
Patient access to the treatment swaps will be extended until the summer with the potential to be extended until March 2022, the NHS in England has said.
It is expected that around 700 patients each month will benefit from the extension of the programme.
For the treatment swaps, around 30 different drugs are being used, including:
– A drug called trametinib as an alternative to chemotherapy for some ovarian cancer patients, which can be taken in tablet form, and reduces the impact on the immune system.
– Some acute myeloid leukaemia patients have been given venetoclax as an oral alternative to more toxic standard chemotherapy.
– Some patients with myeloma are being offered ixazomib as an oral alternative to treatment which would require more hospital visits and injections.
– The drug atezolizumab, a monoclonal antibody treatment, is being offered as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy.
Professor Peter Johnson, clinical director for cancer for the NHS in England, said: “Cancer has been a priority throughout the pandemic which is why NHS staff have fast-tracked patient access to more convenient and kinder treatments to provide as many people as possible with safe and effective care, even as the NHS cared for more than 380,000 people seriously ill with Covid.
“Extending the use of ‘Covid-friendly’ treatments for cancer is another example of how we are embracing the full range of treatment options and bringing the NHS to patients at home in many cases.
“If you have a worrying symptom, please do come forward and get checked – the NHS is ready and here to treat you.
“Cancer is easier to treat when it’s caught at an earlier stage and coming forward for a check could save your life.”
The health service has already ploughed £160 million into providing patients more “Covid-friendly” cancer care.
Commenting on the news, Clare Turnbull, professor of cancer genomics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “It’s reassuring to see the NHS prioritising cancer patients and working to maintain and expand access to more ‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments.
“These treatment swaps, such as targeted cancer drugs that can be taken at home and have less of an impact on patients’ immune system, have the potential to make a huge difference in keeping vulnerable patients safe.
“This is an important step among many that are needed to tackle the cancer backlog that has built up over the past year.”
Heather Blake, director of support at Prostate Cancer UK, added: “Making life-extending treatments like enzalutamide available during the pandemic has made a huge difference to many men with prostate cancer.
“We’re delighted that NHS England took this landmark decision early in the pandemic, meaning that men who are newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer won’t miss out on valuable additional months of life.
“We hope important treatments like this will now be made permanently available so that men who can’t tolerate chemotherapy continue to have these options in future.”