Public patients to gain from new test for cancer
UP to 100 women who develop breast cancer each year will be able to avoid chemotherapy and its potential side-effects thanks to the introduction of a new test in public hospitals.
The test -- Oncotype DX -- is capable of guiding doctors to decide what is the most appropriate treatment after a woman is diagnosed with the disease.
The extension of the test to public patients was at the centre of controversy in recent months because a spending watchdog said it was too expensive.
It cost €3,180 per test and was available to privately insured patients with breast cancer -- but the National Centre for Pharmaceconomics said it was too expensive for public hospitals at that price.
However, the price charged by makers of the test, Genomic Health, has since been cut and it will be available in the eight designated cancer centres, including the satellite clinic at Letterkenny General Hospital, Co Donegal, from this week.
The HSE refused to say how much it was now paying for the test as it was "commercially sensitive".
Dr Susan O'Reilly, director of the HSE's National Cancer Control Programme, said yesterday that around 300 women would have the test annually and an estimated 100 could exclude chemotherapy from their treatment plan.
The women, who can be given hormone treatment, will be spared the side-effects of chemotherapy, which can include anaemia, risk of infection, hair loss and infertility.
Dr O'Reilly who described the test as "clinically beneficial and value for money" said it looked at a group of 21 genes within a woman's tumour to see how they were expressed and how active they were.
A score of between zero and 100 is applied, which indicates the woman's chances of having the cancer return and the likeliehood that she would benefit from adding chemotherapy to hormonal therapy.
She added: "The test will only be available when eligible patients have been reviewed at a multi-disciplinary meeting in the designated cancer centres."
This is the first test to be subject to a review by the National Cancer Control Programme Technology Review Committee.
She said after commercial negotiations took place between the Cancer Control Programme and the makers of the test the spending watchdog looked at its introduction again and concluded that it represented value for money.