18 Sep 2020

Treatment for neuroendocrine cancer now available in Auckland

2:58 pm on 18 September 2020

Neuroendocrine cancer patients who were unable to get treatment in Australia due to the border closure will now be able to access it in Auckland.

Iv Drip in hospital corridor

Photo: 123rf

The Ministry of Health, Auckland District Health Board and other agencies have worked to provide Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT) in Auckland on an interim arrangement.

Patients usually travel to Melbourne for the treatment which is funded by the ministry.

Te Aho o te Kahu, Cancer Control Agency chief executive Professor Dianna Sarfati said this was an example of the cancer sector collaborating together.

About two dozen unwell people have been unable to access the treatment due to travel restrictions but it is expected the first patient will get treatment in Auckland before the end of this month.

Chris Holmes was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer in 2011 at the age of 49.

"The recommendation then was that I receive palliative care, I mean I didn't even really understand what that meant."

After radiation, having part of his liver removed and doing a monthly injection to stem the growth of his cancer, Holmes heard about PRRT.

It was not avalible here so he flew to Melbourne for four rounds of the treatment.

"I had the treatment in 2016 and 2017 and it had a significant impact, I can look at my scans before and after and the pictures are completley different, the tumors became a lot smaller," Holmes said.

"PRRT has saved my life for sure, I probably wouldn't be speaking to you if I didn't have it."

He said he was lucky the therapy was covered under his health insurance otherwise he would have to cover the cost himself.

"I live close to Wellington Airport and had friends in Melbourne I could stay with, so there wasn't a lot of additional costs for me like there are for others, some people can simply not afford it so therefore don't get it.

"The fact it will be avalible here is amazing and something that so many people have worked towards for a long time - when the first patient gets treatment in Auckland, we will celebrate with a bottle of Champagne."

Malcolm Legget has had 11 courses of PRRT since being diagnosed with cancer nine years ago.

Like Holmes, he has seen a massive reduction in the size of his tumors and credits the treatment for him still being alive.

"I've had a great response to the treatment to the point where things really came under control, things flared up a little bit but I had surgery last year which was a success," Legget said.

"It extended my life and I've had a really good quality of life in between treatments, I've continued to work full-time."

He said it was amazing more people would have access to it in New Zealand.

Pharmac has a funding application for PRRT which is in its prioritization process.

The Unicorn Foundation, has been advocating for PRRT to be available in New Zealand.

Chief executive Michelle Sullivan said having access to the treatment would take a lot of stress off people.

"It is fantastic we have found a way to ensure treatment for these seriously ill New Zealanders," she said.

"We have been worried about our patients who have found themselves stranded unable to access treatment."

Sullivan said the urgency with which the interim service had been set up was much appreciated.

"This treatment greatly improves the life span of people suffering from Neuroendocrine cancers."