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Great news for breast cancer patients

Great news for breast cancer patients

August 1st 2005

Early-stage breast cancer patients who are intolerant to tamoxifen have received great news with the announcement that Pharmac will increase funding of aromatase inhibitors such as Arimidex® from August 1. Pharmac also announced a review of the funding of the class of drugs in general.

Breast cancer specialists welcome the news of the funding and the review as they say there is still more that should be done.

Breast surgeon and medical chair of the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, Dr. Belinda Scott, says: "This announcement is fantastic news because the recent ATAC (Arimidex, tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination) trial results have shown that aromatase inhibitors such as Arimidex should be used in post-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer as early as possible in their treatment, to reduce the risk of cancer returning. So the funding and review are a step in the right direction.

However we still have a way to go in New Zealand and it is very important that all our patients have access to these drugs.”

Arimidex is the only aromatase inhibitor approved by Medsafe for use in the primary adjuvant treatment of early-stage breast cancer. It has also demonstrated longer-term efficacy and safety benefits over tamoxifen in post-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer and is an effective alternative for women who are intolerant or resistant to tamoxifen1.

But until now it has only been fully funded for patients with advanced-stage breast cancer who are intolerant to tamoxifen.

“Ultimately we would like aromatase inhibitors to be made available to all patients who are suitable for it, not just those who are intolerant to tamoxifen," says Dr Scott.

Lynne Hall is one of many breast cancer patients who has experienced side effects from tamoxifen.

“I was originally told that I would have to take tamoxifen for five years before I could try any other treatment. As soon as I started my course I began to experience hot flushes, especially at night. I would drink lots of water during the day and could cope with it better, but at night I found myself getting up numerous times and walking around the room to find a cool spot.

“As soon as I started taking Arimidex my hot flushes disappeared. Arimidex also offers me great peace of mind because I have previously had a pulmonary embolism and tamoxifen is associated with a higher risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which can lead to blood clots and stroke,” says Lynne.

Dr Jackie Blue, breast physician and a Director of St Marks Woman’s Health says: "The Pharmac announcement is great news because there are a considerable number of patients that are intolerant to tamoxifen and at last Pharmac have realised that aromatase inhibitors are an essential treatment option that all women with early stage breast cancer should have access to.

“New Zealand has a high rate of breast cancer and increasing women’s access to Arimidex is a positive step towards reducing this and improving their quality of life. Pharmac still haven't gone far enough but this is a good start."

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has stated that tamoxifen is no longer the gold standard treatment for breast cancer and that aromatase inhibitors are the optimal choice for post-menopausal women with hormonal sensitive breast cancer .


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