Cancer sufferer denied vital drug over price tag

Catherine Maxwell. Picture: contributed
Catherine Maxwell. Picture: contributed
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A MUM of four who was mistakenly treated for irritable bowel syndrome for two years when she actually had ovarian cancer has suffered another blow after being denied a vital drug.

Catherine Maxwell says she visited her GP – at The Wood Medical Practice in Broxburn – around ten times complaining of stomach pain after becoming convinced she had a more serious condition.

She was finally sent for a scan in 2010, but by then the cancer had developed to the most advanced stage. It went into remission for nine months following chemotherapy, but returned, leading her oncologist to recommend her for Avastin – the first drug in 15 years that has been shown to work against ovarian cancer.

But although it is available in England, the Scottish Medicines Consortium recently rejected it, claiming it did not offer “value for money”.

Catherine, 53, said the latest setback was hard to take. “There are quite a few patients who require this drug, but they’ve just been told no,” she said.

“In England, they have a fund for it, so it does seem unfair. To be honest, I would like to meet the person who says it’s too expensive. It does make me angry to think it could help me and lots of other people, but it’s just sitting on a shelf somewhere. There haven’t been any advances for so long for ovarian cancer.”

Catherine, who worked as a senior sales assistant at Semichem in Broxburn, has been told that the drug could give her longer spells between chemotherapy treatments, which have left her “totally drained”.

And although the cancer is once again responding to treatment, she admits the future is uncertain. “When I was diagnosed for the first time, it was so scary,” she said. “You think that’s it, then you decide to fight it. When I went into remission I convinced myself it wasn’t coming back, so when it did it was devastating.

“I did feel angry that it wasn’t picked up earlier, but then you think there’s not really any point and you need the strength to try and fight. I’ve got good consultants now in Edinburgh and I couldn’t get better care. It’s a shame it wasn’t like that all the way.

“There are so many women being wrongly diagnosed. I want to encourage women to really push it if they know something is wrong, and raise awareness about what’s happening with the drug.”

The Scottish Government has launched a review into access to new medicines, and in January it set up a fund to cover the cost of rare medicines on a case-by-case basis.

Patients can also make individual requests to health boards – Catherine’s oncologist has made an application for Avastin, but has been told not to expect a positive response.

Frances Reid, from charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We are very disappointed that the SMC were not able to approve Avastin for women with recurrent ovarian cancer.”

An SMC spokesman said: “The SMC did not recommend Avastin for use because the balance of costs and benefits meant that it was not considered to offer value for money.”

The Wood Medical Practice declined to comment.

Ovarian cancer treatment

Avastin can halt the progression of the disease in women with recurrent ovarian cancer by up to four months, compared to chemotherapy alone.

Around 160 women with recurrent ovarian cancer could potentially benefit from Avastin each year in Scotland.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth highest cause of female cancer mortality after lung, breast and colorectal cancer. Nearly 650 people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in Scotland, while 415 people die from it.

Professor Charlie Gourley, honorary consultant in medical oncology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It is extremely disappointing that oncologists do not have access to Avastin.”