NHS England has recommended the use of two hormone therapy drugs, enzalutamide and abiraterone, instead of chemotherapy to treat advanced prostate cancer during the Covid-19 crisis.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer have not been able to access chemotherapy – potentially shortening their lives by more than a year.
But NHS England has now made enzalutamide available, as well as abiraterone for some men. These come in pill form so can be taken at home and provide an equally effective treatment to chemotherapy in terms of extending life.
Prostate Cancer UK, a charity that has been calling for the change, said in a statement: ‘Men with newly diagnosed metastatic prostate cancer can get the additional months of life that chemotherapy provides without increasing their risk from the virus.’
Chemotherapy is currently unavailable because of the high risk of contracting the virus during the treatment, due to the social contact required to administer it, the multiple trips to hospital and the impact on the immune system.
Men with a new diagnosis of the metastatic type, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, have been given hormone therapy instead. However, this does not have the same life-extending effects as chemotherapy, which offers an average of 15 months’ additional life.
Enzalutamide and abiraterone work by blocking the effect of the hormone testosterone on prostate cancer cells. Without testosterone, the prostate cancer cells can’t grow.
Abiraterone was recommended in Scotland as a first-line treatment for advanced prostate cancer earlier this year, but has only been recommended in England and Wales when hormone therapy stopped working.
Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘Until now, [newly diagnosed men] have been faced with the distressing prospect that chemotherapy, which could extend their life by 15 months, was not being made available due to the increased risk from Covid-19.
‘These treatments have been shown to offer the same benefits as chemotherapy but without the additional risks.’