World's Cancer Patients Face Inequities in Access to Newer Drugs

More than half will benefit, but it depends on where they live, study finds

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THURSDAY, May 10, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Patients' access to new and better cancer drugs varies widely depending on which country they live in, a new Swedish study says.

Researchers analyzed data on access to 67 innovative cancer drugs in 25 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and 19 European nations.

The study found that Austria, France, Switzerland and the United States are the leaders in the use of new cancer drugs, while New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic, South Africa and the United Kingdom are the slowest to use new cancer drugs.

The largest disparities were in the use of the new colorectal and lung cancer drugs: bevacizumab, cetuximab, erlotinib and pemetrexed, the study found. For example, the use of bevacizumab for colorectal cancer and erlotinib for lung cancer in the United States was 10 times higher than the European average.

The use of cetuximab for colorectal cancer was highest in France and the United States and lowest in Finland. The use of pemetrexed for lung cancer was also high in France and the United States and low in Canada, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

"Progress in medical treatments has meant that over half of the patients diagnosed with cancer will now be 'cured' or die from other causes. However, these benefits are only realized once the drugs get to the patients," study co-author Dr. Bengt Jonsson, director of the Center for Health Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, said in a prepared statement.

"Our report highlights that in many countries new drugs are not reaching patients quickly enough and that this is having an adverse impact on patient survival. Where you live can determine whether you receive the best available treatment or not. To some extent, this is determined by economic factors, but much of the variation between countries remains unexplained," Jonsson said.

"In the U.S., we have found that the survival of cancer patients is significantly related to the introduction of new oncology drugs," he noted. The study also found "differences in access (to new cancer drugs) reflected in patient outcome in the five major European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K."

The study findings, by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Center for Health Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, are published in the May 10 issue of Annals of Oncology.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about cancer drugs.

SOURCE: European Society for Medical Oncology, news release, May 10, 2007

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