Campaigners hail new NHS radiotherapy boost in ongoing cancer battle | Politics | News

Campaigners said the decision to make a highly targeted radiotherapy cancer treatment available on the NHS for patients with liver tumours will help save lives.

Selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) has previously only been available to patients in specific circumstances.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has now recommended it as a treatment option for all NHS patients with neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) in the liver.

SIRT involves injecting millions of tiny radioactive beads called microspheres – smaller than the width of a human hair – into the blood supply in the liver.

The beads stick to the small blood vessels in cancer cells in the liver and release radiation which destroys them, causing minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells as the radiation only travels a few millimetres from where the beads settle.

In its review, NICE found SIRT, which can take one to two hours, may result in fewer side effects, faster recovery times and better quality of life for patients compared with surgery or chemotherapy.

Cancer charity PLANETS, which helps patients with pancreatic, liver, colorectal, abdominal and NET cancers, has long-campaigned for NICE to recommend SIRT for these patients and called it a “major step forward”.

NETs are rare types of cancer which are usually found in the pancreas, bowel or lungs but can also develop in other parts of the body.

They arise from cells found throughout the body which form a link between the nervous system and the endocrine system, a collection of glands which produce hormones.

Around 6,000 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK, though it is thought that a larger number of people are affected but remain undiagnosed as the cancers are slow growing.

If detected early they can often be cured with surgery but, at present, most are diagnosed at a later stage when they have already spread to other parts of the body, commonly the liver.

Until now, treatment options for NETs in the liver have been limited.

Layla Stephen, a NET cancer patient and CEO of PLANETS, said: “We are so pleased NICE has issued this new guideline on SIRT as it will help ensure that more cancer patients in England can access this invaluable treatment option if funding is made available by NHS England.

“This is a major step forward for NET patients who, until now, have only had access to this treatment privately.

“Making SIRT available will make a significant difference as it not only provides another treatment option but one that offers fewer side effects, less visits to hospital and a better quality of life.”

She added: “I have had a multitude of different treatments for my liver tumours, some of which have been incredibly invasive with numerous side effects and, disappointingly, SIRT has always been a treatment that has been out of reach for me as it had not been offered within the NHS.

“All patients with NETs in the liver deserve equal access to this innovative treatment and, following this decision by NICE, I am hopeful the treatment will now be an additional option my interventional radiologist can consider when looking at what is next for my disease management.”

Leading oncologist and chair of Radiotherapy UK, Professor Pat Price said: “The decision by NICE to update its guidance is to be welcomed and will help patients who need this treatment. I hope that this is the start of a greater recognition of radiation cancer therapy in all its forms because there is so much more radiotherapy could do to save lives and cut waiting lists.

“SIRT, along with a host of other forms of radiotherapy, are highly cost-effective, often curative or life extending cancer treatments that we have ready to use in our arsenal right now. Personalised cancer treatments come in many forms, and it is long past time that the Government and NHS recognise the value the radiation therapy brings to cancer treatment.”

“This decision from NICE will help many patients and will boost the well-being of patients suffering from NETs. That’s the power of radiotherapy. Today is a good day for patients, their loved ones, and the sector as a whole.”

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