Urged by Prostate Cancer UK, NHS England is making Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) available during the COVID-19 pandemic for men with newly diagnosed advanced prostate cancer. Access to chemotherapy for these new patients has been stopped in the U.K. due to the nationwide lockdown.
“We are delighted that NHS England have taken the landmark decision to make these drugs available and that men across the UK can now benefit from these life-extending treatments,” Heather Blake, director of support & influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said in a press release.
Both Xtandi and Zytiga are second-generation androgen receptor inhibitors that work by blocking the signaling of androgens — hormones such as testosterone — that fuel prostate cancer growth. Without androgens, the prostate cancer cells cannot grow, even if they have spread to other parts of the body (called metastases).
Men with advanced prostate cancer in the U.K are usually offered chemotherapy as the standard-of-care treatment. However, during the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, chemotherapy has been unavailable through NHS England for men with newly diagnosed advanced prostate cancer.
That was due to the high risk of contracting the virus during treatment. Chemotherapy requires social contact to administer, as well as multiple visits to the hospital. These risks would add to the impact of chemotherapy on the immune system.
Instead, men with newly diagnosed advanced prostate cancer were given hormone therapy, which does not have the same life-extending effects as chemotherapy. The lack of access to chemotherapy without a similar treatment to replace it may potentially shorten the lives of these men by more than a year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a nationwide lockdown, Prostate Cancer UK urged the NHS England to make Xtandi and Zytiga available for men with advanced prostate cancer. Scotland and Wales had already made these treatments available for some men with the same condition.
Now, men newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer will be able to receive Xtandi during the COVID-19 pandemic. Men who cannot tolerate Xtandi can receive Zytiga instead. Neither of these treatments were previously available through the NHS for men at this stage of the disease.
“This is fantastic news for newly-diagnosed men. Until now, they 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,” Blake said.
“These treatments have been shown to offer the same benefits as chemotherapy but without the additional risks,” she added. “We are therefore delighted that NHS England have taken the landmark decision to make these drugs available and that men across the UK can now benefit from these life-extending treatments.”
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