30/03/2012 05:07 BST

New Drug That Targets Cancer Spread To Bone Could Be Available Soon

Thousands of cancer patients whose disease has spread to the bone could benefit from a new drug currently being approved for use on the NHS.

Denosumab (Xgeva) helps prevent bone complications in people whose cancer has spread from its original site.

These complications include bone fractures, spinal compression (when the spinal cord is compressed by the bone) and bone complications requiring radiotherapy or surgery.

Symptoms include pain as well as weakening and eventual destruction of the bone.

New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends the drug for certain groups of cancer patients whose disease has spread, most commonly the spine, pelvis, hip, upper leg bones and skull.

These patients include women with bone tumours from breast cancer, and men with painful bone disease spread caused by hormone-refractory prostate cancer for whom other treatments have failed.

Other patients, who currently qualify for standard treatment with zoledronic acid, will also be able to receive the drug.

Professor Carole Longson, director of the centre for health technology evaluation at Nice, said: "Bone metastasis is associated with increased pain and skeletal-related events such as fractures and spinal cord compression.

"It can have a major impact on quality of life and we are therefore pleased to be able to recommend denosumab."

The drug's manufacturer, Amgen, estimates there are more than 150,000 patients in the UK with solid tumours and disease that has spread to the bone.

Breast and prostate cancer patients account for more than 80% of this group. The cost of the drug is just over £4,000 per year but could be lower after Amgen negotiated a discount deal for the NHS.

The guidance is still subject to consultation.

Prostate Action chief executive Emma Malcolm said: "When it comes to providing drugs allowing cancer sufferers a longer and more comfortable life, all the dice are loaded against men with prostate cancer.

"The NHS does an admirable job of providing breast cancer sufferers with drugs that maintain their quality of life; unfortunately the same is not true for men with prostate cancer, who are all too frequently left out in the cold.

"Nice's proposals to make denosumab available on the NHS represent an admirable move towards redressing this shocking imbalance."

Owen Sharp, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "This draft decision is good news for men with prostate cancer and sends an encouraging message to men in the final stages of the disease that their needs have not been forgotten.

"Although it will not extend lives, this simple injection gives these men the chance of a much better quality of life."

He said he hoped today's draft guidance may mean Nice reverses its decision on another drug, abiraterone, which has been shown to extend life.

Tara Beaumont, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: "Currently there are limited treatment options for secondary breast cancer patients with bone metastases, so this recommendation would widen patient and clinician choice."

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