There’s a lot that’s unpleasant about having breast cancer, but one of the hardest things for many patients is how much time they have to spend at the hospital undergoing treatment. But hopefully, that’s all about to change for many patients.
Typically, when a breast cancer patient undergoes chemotherapy infusions, it can take up to two and a half hours per session to have the treatment done. For patients in the UK, however, a new treatment is being rolled out that takes just five minutes to prepare and administer.
The new treatment, called PHESGO, is a combined injection of pertuzumab with trastuzumab, which would usually have to be given as two separate infusions. Because it only takes five minutes to prepare the mixture and inject it into the patient, it’s cutting out hours of chemotherapy time for about 3,600 HER2-positive breast cancer patients each year across the country, on top of those patients currently on chemo infusions who will be switching to the new treatment. HER2-positive cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all breast cancers, meaning a large percentage of patients will be positively affected by this change.
“Approval of Phesgo being used on the NHS in England is fantastic news, as thousands of women with HER2-positive breast cancer will now benefit from a quicker and kinder treatment method,” says Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now. “Reducing the time patients need to spend in hospital, this more efficient treatment method also promises to free up precious time for healthcare professionals when the NHS is already under unprecedented strain due to COVID-19.”
This means nurses and doctors may be able to free up more time to see more patients or spend more time with other patients who need them. It also means patients get to spend more time at home recovering, or, if they’re working, they’ll be able to take less time off work for treatment.
“I’m currently on a combination of medications which take about an hour and a half to two hours to administer all together, and I have to go into hospital to have them every three weeks,” says 51-year-old Paula Lamb, who is receiving treatment at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre for breast cancer and secondary lung and liver cancers.
She continues, “It feels absolutely amazing to be one of the first people to receive this treatment through the NHS, and it really could not have come at a better time as lockdown lifts and I can stop shielding. Having a five-minute treatment means I’ll have more time to get out on walks, for my gardening, knitting, and to help my daughter practise her cricket skills. It’s a real life-changer.”
The new treatment also significantly reduces cancer patients’ risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, because it cuts down on the amount of time they’ll spend around other people in the hospital. Since the start of the pandemic, 228,000 people have begun NHS treatment for cancer in the UK, and there have been double the number of cancer procedures during that time as there were COVID-19 patients. This is proof that cancer should be a top priority and deserves treatment breakthroughs like this one.
“The NHS has continued to adopt new treatments rapidly throughout the pandemic, to improve cancer care for patients,” says Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer. “This new injection, which can substantially cut treatment time for people with breast cancer, is the latest in a series of changes which have meant the NHS has been able to deliver vital cancer treatment while keeping patients safe from COVID.”
He continues, “I am delighted that this is now available to people having breast cancer treatment, limiting the time they need to spend in hospital and giving the NHS another way to continue treating as many cancer patients as possible, as we have done throughout the pandemic.”
PHESGO may also be taken on its own or alongside traditional chemotherapy, which may make treatment more effective for difficult cases.
We hope that the PHESGO rollout will continue to go well in the UK and that it will be able to spread to other countries soon. The massive reduction in strain it could have on patients and on the healthcare system is something to look forward to for sure!