Greater affordability of, and access to, advanced bowel cancer treatments
For some time, Bowel Cancer Australia has been concerned about inequities in the availability of affordable treatments for bowel cancer compared to its burden of disease.
The bowel cancer burden is growing with 110,000 people estimated to receive a bowel cancer diagnosis within the next five years.
Five-year survival rates for bowel cancer are 66%, compared to around 90% for other common cancers such as breast, prostate and melanoma. For patients diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer five-year survival rates are around 16%.
As well as fewer treatment options than for other common cancers, there is a significant time lag between access to new treatments for Australian bowel cancer patients compared to those in other OECD countries.
To highlight these concerns on behalf of patients, Bowel Cancer Australia made a submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee ahead of their Inquiry into the Access to Cancer Medicines.
Bowel Cancer Australia's submission
In the submission to the Senate Inquiry, Bowel Cancer Australia recommended greater affordability of, and access to, advanced bowel cancer treatments.
Cancer patients with advanced disease cannot afford to wait months or years for effective, affordable treatment options. Some patients and their families are faced with the decision of going into debt or mortgaging their homes to pay for high cost medications.
Bowel Cancer Australia has consistently called for the Federal Government to return to the process of automatically listing on the PBS any proven, effective bowel cancer treatments that have received a positive PBAC recommendation.
There is also concern that many new treatments for bowel cancer only extend life for relatively short periods of time (e.g. months). However, the cumulative effect of such incremental gains has transformed the treatment landscape for bowel cancer patients over recent years.
Prolonging quality life enables a patient to normalise their life in many basic areas such as returning to work, so that they can continue to support family and feel valued again, or spending precious time with family and friends. This is important for the patient and their loved ones to help come to terms with the illness.
Drugs for advanced bowel cancer can in some cases reduce tumour size so significantly that surgery is then possible, providing further hope to patients and the possibility of eventual remission.
When it comes to treatment options which have been shown to deliver modest incremental life-extending benefits, there remains a very limited number currently available in Australia for patients with advanced bowel cancer.
The Senate Inquiry Report
After many months of deliberations, the Senate Community Affairs Committee published their report on 17 September 2015.
The Committee acknowledged Bowel Cancer Australia's submission numerous times throughout the report, and agreed that the provision of timely and affordable access to new and innovative cancer medicines provides a significant challenge to Australians.
The Committee noted that it can take more than one and a half years to get a subsidy for new cancer medicines under Australia's system.
They acknowledged Bowel Cancer Australia's view that for cancer patients and their families, maintaining a normal life and enhancing the quality of that life is of utmost importance. The Committee stated that the uncertainty and significant financial cost associated with off-label use of cancer drugs results in significant physical, emotional and financial stress.
In formulating this view, the Committee acknowledged Bowel Cancer Australia Patient Ambassador, Robyn Lindley, who wrote about the financial burden of cancer on her family.
The Committee concludes that a complete review of Australia's medicine system, including the registration and subsidisation of medicines, is needed.
The Senate committee are also calling on the government to consider a national register of cancer medicines.
Other recommendations include: expanding the use of post-market reviews; and evaluating current data collection mechanisms for cancer medicines.
Where to Now?
Bowel Cancer Australia agrees with the Senate Committee that there is an urgent need to provide timely and affordable access to new and innovative cancer medicines, to ensure Australia achieves world's best practice.
We urge the Australian Government, the Department of Health and other stakeholders to act now on the recommendations contained within the report.
To view the Senate Inquiry Report and Bowel Cancer Australia's submission visit the Parliament of Australia website.