'Life-changing' new breast cancer treatment can be administered in just five minutes
The new injection can replace the current two-and-a-half hour treatment, which “significantly cuts” the COVID-19 infection risk for cancer patients by reducing the amount of time they have to spend in hospital.
A new breast cancer jab will cut the amount of time patients have to spend in hospital from two-and-a-half hours to just five minutes.
The treatment, called Phesgo, is being rolled out across England by the NHS and will be offered to breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
It will be available to people with HER2-positive breast cancer, which accounts for 15 per cent of all such cancers.
NHS England said the jab “significantly cuts” the COVID-19 infection risk for cancer patients by reducing the amount of time they have to spend in hospital.
“This five-minute injection will be life-changing for cancer patients across the country, allowing them to spend more time away from the hospital and with their loved ones,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
According to NHS England, more than 3,600 new patients each year will benefit from the treatment.
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Phesgo is a fixed-dose combination of the drugs pertuzumab with trastuzumab – both of which would have previously been given as separate intravenous infusions.
It is used to treat all stages of HER2-positive breast cancer in combination with chemotherapy.
The treatment takes as little as five minutes to prepare and administer, compared with two infusions that can take up to two-and-a-half hours, NHS England said.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said the approval of Phesgo on the NHS was “fantastic news” for thousands of women who will benefit from a “quicker and kinder” treatment method.
“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.”
Paula Lamb, 51, was one of the first patients to receive the treatment having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.
“It feels absolutely amazing to be one of the first people to receive this treatment through the NHS," said Lamb, who is from Newton-le-Willows in St Helens. "It really could not have come at a better time as lockdown lifts and I can stop shielding.”
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“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," said Lamb.
“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.”
Reader Q&A: How does radiation kill cancer if it causes cancer?
Asked by: Odysseus Ray Lopez, US
It’s rather like the way guns can be used to commit crime, or stop it. Radiation causes cancer because its high-energy photons can cause breaks in the DNA strands in your cells. Cells can repair this damage up to a point, but sometimes the repair isn’t perfect and leaves some genes defective.
If the break affects one of the many tumour-suppressing genes in your DNA, that cell can become cancerous. But cancer cells are also more vulnerable to radiation than ordinary cells. Part of what makes them cancer cells is their ability to divide rapidly and this normally means that some of the DNA ‘spellcheck’ mechanisms are turned off.
So when a cancer cell suffers a break in a DNA strand, it’s less likely to repair it correctly. Depending where the break occurs, it might either kill the cell outright, or make it reproduce more slowly.
Radiation therapy uses a focused beam that is aimed at just the part of the body with the tumour, and the dose is carefully calculated to cause the minimum collateral damage to healthy cells. Even so, radiation therapy does very slightly increase your chances of developing a second cancer.
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.