According to a new Cancer Research UK report, thousands of patients in England are missing out on molecular diagnostic tests that could pave the way for targeted cancer treatments.
The NHS’s molecular diagnostic testing service for cancer patients in England helps to identify the genetic faults behind a patient’s cancer to determine whether they may benefit from targeted therapy.
Certain molecular diagnostic tests can also predict the likely outcome of less advanced tumours and thereby determine whether aggressive early management is necessary.
Targeted cancer treatment can dramatically affect a patient’s outcome and experience and help them avoid unpleasant side effects and prolonged periods spent in hospital.
As molecular diagnostic tests are the only way to access regularly funded targeted cancer medicines, eligible patients who do not receive such tests are missing out on learning whether their cancer is suitable for treatments as well as any potential benefits of targeted medicine.
According to Cancer Research UK, hospitals in England failed to provide more than 24,000 molecular diagnostic tests in 2014. This included 16,000 eligible patients with lung or bowel cancer, of which a quarter could have been given targeted therapies.
This means that an estimated 3,500 lung and bowel cancer patients missed out on the benefits of personalised treatment that could have altered the course of their disease. In some cases, patients were denied several priceless months they could have spent with their loved ones as a result.
Despite the fact that molecular diagnostic tests have been available in England since 2008 and are routinely available in several other countries, the main reasons behind the missed tests are cost and poor awareness by doctors of targeted treatments and testing. Although the Government pledged to develop national commissioning for the tests in its 2011 cancer strategy, there is still no dedicated funding available.
The Cancer Research UK report estimates that at least £13m is needed to meet current demand for the tests and to ensure services are kept up to date as new treatments become available.
It is hugely concerning that cancer patients are being left in the dark as to whether or not they might benefit from targeted treatments simply because routine molecular diagnostic testing still isn’t available.
These tests enable doctors to select specifically tailored treatment plans that can help improve cancer patients’ survival rates. In addition, they allow patients to become involved in clinical trials and can reduce debilitating side effects from less effective treatments.
The new cancer strategy for improving cancer outcomes in England over the next five years calls for NHS England to properly commission these tests. To ensure thousands of patients don’t continue to be excluded from potentially invaluable treatments, it is therefore absolutely crucial the government does everything it can to act on the strategy’s recommendations.
Better cancer prevention, faster diagnosis and modernisation of the NHS to provide improved access to treatments are all high priority aims the health service needs to target. By taking action and making the changes suggested in the report, the Independent Cancer Taskforce estimates that by 2020, the NHS could be saving an additional 30,000 lives every year.
Cancer develops through various stages and when opportunities for diagnosing the disease are missed or delayed, the condition can obviously develop to a more advanced and critical stage. The effects of any such errors can be extremely serious.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to Medical Negligence. For a free consultation call our Medical Negligence Solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or start your claim online.
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To read more about the Cancer Research UK report, please click here.