A “game changing” new treatment has been approved for those diagnosed with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer.
As many as 700 people every year will benefit from the “landmark” approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda), a type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy, and lenvatinib (Lenvima), a cancer growth blocker.
The drugs work together to stimulate the body’s immune system and kill off cancer cell growth and will be available on the NHS immediately.
Clinical trials have shown that, when used together, the drugs can double the time taken for cancer to progress compared with the existing chemotherapy treatment.
The treatment was initially rejected on the grounds of cost-effectiveness, but the NHS has been able to use its commercial capabilities to negotiate a deal with the manufacturers, allowing the treatment to be made available to patients.
Grace Teeling, a 33-year-old living with advanced endometrial cancer, has been receiving the treatment for the past two years – and said she didn’t think she would be alive without it.
“I have had a really good response to the treatment which means there is currently no evidence of cancer on my recent scans,” she said.
“It has enabled me to thrive despite having an advanced and incurable cancer diagnosis. I am able to work, travel, socialise and exercise, including paddleboarding, which I may not have been able to do on chemotherapy.
“I am delighted others will now be able to access this treatment as I don’t think I would be alive today if I hadn’t.”
Every year, just under 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with womb cancer – most of these are endometrial.
In the trial, overall survival was significantly longer for patients taking the combination therapy compared to existing chemotherapy treatments, with those taking pembrolizumab and lenvatinib living on average almost 19 months compared to just under 12 months on existing chemotherapy.
The stark mortality rate
Around 1,400 are diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, and it grows back in around 1,100 people.
A quarter of those diagnosed with womb cancer will die from their disease.
Until today, there has been no standard second-line treatment available to treat those with advanced or recurrent forms of womb cancer, meaning these people have limited options if chemotherapy isn’t effective.
But, on Thursday, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the new treatment to allow those with this cancer to live longer, feel well and live independently with improved quality of life.
Pembrolizumab is delivered intravenously every three or six weeks while lenvatinib is two pills taken once a day. Patients currently undergo chemotherapy treatment every three weeks, but unlike with chemotherapy, there is a far less significant risk of hair loss as a side effect of the new combination treatment.
Professor Emma Crosbie, chair of Trustees of Peaches Womb Cancer Trust, said people with womb cancer deserve more treatment options, but this is “just the first step”.
“This innovative new treatment regimen will benefit patients with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer, who currently have very few effective anti-cancer treatments available to them,” she said.
“Every year, many people are facing a diagnosis of advanced or recurrent womb cancer, and the frightening reality of very few treatment options that can improve their survival and quality of life.”
NHS national cancer director Professor Peter Johnson said: “Most cancers of the womb can be cured if we catch them early, but for the women whose cancers can’t be dealt with in this way it is great news that we now have a more effective treatment that can help them to live longer and better.
“The NHS is leading the world in making the latest treatments available through its unique commercial capabilities and commitment to innovation on behalf of patients and their families across the country.”