Categories: Health

NHS approves life-extending drug for women diagnosed with one of deadliest types of breast cancer

A drug for women with one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer has been given the green light for NHS use in England.

Triple-negative breast cancer is responsible for one in four breast cancer deaths.

But now in England about 1,600 patients a year are offered pembrolizumab, which reduces the chance of the cancer progressing by 40 percent.

Research suggests that the immunotherapy drug, given intravenously with chemotherapy before breast cancer surgery, could potentially lead to the disappearance of any detectable cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) approved pembrolizumab for women with primary triple-negative breast cancer, where the cancer has a high risk of returning after treatment.

Immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, brand name Keytruda is approved for women with advanced breast cancer after a previous rejection

Helen Knight, interim director of drug assessment at drug watchdog Nice, said: ‘Triple-negative breast cancer has a relatively poor prognosis and there are few effective treatments compared to other forms of the disease.

“Today’s draft guidelines mean that since June we have recommended three new treatments for routine use in the NHS, addressing this unmet need and giving thousands of people hope for a longer and better life.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘For far too long, patients with this type of breast cancer have faced the terrifying reality of limited treatment options.

“This new treatment could potentially lead to any detectable cancer disappearing by the time of surgery, meaning patients may then undergo less invasive, breast-conserving surgery.”

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all breast cancers.

It is more common in women under 40, black women, and people with a mutation of the BRCA2 or BRCA1 gene — called the ‘Jolie gene’ because the mutation was carried by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who had had a mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer.

Pembrolizumab can completely wipe out breast cancer cells before surgery, so some women no longer need a mastectomy but can keep their breasts and instead have smaller surgery to remove a lump.

It is more common in women under 40, black women, and people with a mutation of the BRCA2 or BRCA1 gene — called the ‘Jolie gene’ because the mutation was carried by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who had had a mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer

The drug also reduces the chances of triple-negative breast cancer coming back after treatment and spreading to other parts of the body and becoming incurable.

That means it offers hope for more lives potentially saved from the devastating disease.

For those whose cancer comes back, it may take longer if they take the drug, although no benefits have yet been found showing that pembrolizumab helps people live longer.

The drug, also known as Keytruda and made by the company MSD, blocks a protein on the surface of certain immune cells in the body, making cancer invisible to them.

When the protein is blocked, these immune cells can detect and kill tumor cells.

The NHS in England said it has signed a deal with the manufacturer to get pembrolizumab to breast cancer patients as soon as possible.

The drug is expected to be included in the Cancer Drugs Fund soon, so it should be available this month.

Women get it every three to six weeks for about a year.

This is the second new drug for triple-negative breast cancer to be made available on the NHS this year after Trodelvy was recommended by NICE in June for women with incurable cancer.

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NHS chief Amanda Pritchard described the deal as a ‘hugely important moment for women’, adding: ‘It will give hope to those diagnosed and prevent the cancer from developing, allowing people to live normal, healthy lives. .’

I had to cancel my dream wedding because I was diagnosed with cancer… now I am free from the disease after taking this drug

What is pembrolizumab and how does it work?

What is pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is a form of immunotherapy. It is also known by its brand name, Keytruda.

You could have it as a treatment for:

  • non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • melanoma skin cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma

You may also receive pembrolizumab as part of a clinical trial for another type of cancer.

How does it work?

Pembrolizumab is a form of immunotherapy.

It stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.

Pembrolizumab targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T cells.

Blocking PD-1 triggers the T cells to find and kill cancer cells.

Source: Cancer Research UK

It took four months for Lauren Sirey to walk down the aisle that she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

Suddenly, instead of worrying that the flowers were wrong or the caterer wouldn’t show up, she had to cancel her wedding and start chemotherapy.

In addition, at the age of 31, she was faced with the prospect of a mastectomy.

But after starting a course of pembrolizumab in a clinical trial, the lump in her breast began to disappear and she felt more confident when she made the choice to have a lumpectomy instead.

Miss Sirey, now 36, said: ‘There was a lot of drama when I lost £10,000 to the canceled wedding and had to face breast cancer when I felt way too young.

‘I had the feeling that a mastectomy would be even more damaging psychologically, but the treatment gave me more confidence that I could undergo a mastectomy.

‘Now I only have a small scar under my armpit and you would never know I had breast cancer.

“More importantly, I’m fortunate to know that because of this drug, I have a lower chance of the cancer coming back.”

The mental health nurse has now been cancer-free for five years and will be celebrating with her fiancé, 38-year-old account manager Craig Miller, in Las Vegas.

The couple, who live in Godalming, Surrey, are also planning to finally get married next year or in 2024.

Miss Sirey recently ran a 10k race for a breast cancer charity.

She said: ‘This treatment has helped me make a full recovery and I am delighted to hear that it has now been approved for use in the NHS.’

Miss Sirey is going to Las Vegas in March and ran the 10k for breast cancer charity, the Bennos Boobs Foundation.


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