NHS approves ‘invaluable’ treatment for liver cancer which can help speed up recovery

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An “invaluable” treatment for liver tumours which experts say can help speed up recovery times and provide better quality of life for patients has been approved for use by the NHS.

Cancer charity Planets has welcomed the decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to make selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) available for patients with neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) in the liver.

Previously, SIRT had only been available to patients whose liver cancer had developed in the organ directly or spread to it from the bowel.

We are so pleased NICE has issued this new guideline on SIRT, as it will help ensure that more cancer patients in England can access this invaluable treatment option if funding is made available by NHS England

Layla Stephen, Planets

The treatment involves injecting millions of tiny radioactive beads called microspheres – smaller than the width of a human hair – into the blood supply in the liver.

The beads stick to the small blood vessels in cancer cells in the liver and release radiation which destroys them, causing minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells as the radiation only travels a few millimetres from where the beads settle.

In its review and subsequent guidance, NICE found SIRT – which can take one to two hours – may result in fewer side effects, faster recovery times and better quality of life for patients compared with surgery or chemotherapy.

Layla Stephen, an NET cancer patient and chief executive of Planets, said: “We are so pleased NICE has issued this new guideline on SIRT, as it will help ensure that more cancer patients in England can access this invaluable treatment option if funding is made available by NHS England.

“This is a major step forward for NET patients who, until now, have only had access to this treatment privately.

“Making SIRT available will make a significant difference as it not only provides another treatment option but one that offers fewer side effects, less visits to hospital and a better quality of life.”

She added: “I have had a multitude of different treatments for my liver tumours, some of which have been incredibly invasive with numerous side effects and, disappointingly, SIRT has always been a treatment that has been out of reach for me as it had not been offered within the NHS.

“All patients with NETs in the liver deserve equal access to this innovative treatment and, following this decision by NICE, I am hopeful the treatment will now be an additional option my interventional radiologist can consider when looking at what is next for my disease management.”

Dr Brian Stedman, a consultant interventional radiologist at University Hospital Southampton – one of 14 centres offering SIRT – and co-founder of Planets, said: “Our attempts to treat cancer when it has spread to the liver are often compromised by the harm the treatments cause to the healthy liver and, ultimately, the well-being of our patients.

“SIRT treatment is incredibly well tolerated and in our experience, results in the best long-term outcome in selected patients.”

Xavier Bertrand, vice president of peripheral interventions for Boston Scientific, whose form of SIRT known as TheraSphere Y90 Microspheres was among those reviewed by NICE, said: “Targeted, minimally invasive cancer treatment can improve patient outcomes and reduce pressure on healthcare systems.”

Health and secondary care minister Andrew Stephenson said: “Internal radiation therapy could provide a better treatment option for thousands of liver cancer patients, so I welcome today’s decision to expand its use on the NHS.

“A treatment that offers faster recovery not only helps cancer patients to get back to living their lives, but helps free up NHS resource and cut waiting lists even quicker.”

NETs are rare types of cancer which are usually found in the pancreas, bowel or lungs but can also develop in other parts of the body, with 6,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK.

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