14 Jul 2021

NET cancer patients relieved treatment will be permanently offered in NZ

6:34 pm on 14 July 2021

New Zealanders with metastatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) - a rare form of cancer - will no longer have to travel to Australia for life-saving treatment.

Auckland City Hospital

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Health Minister Andrew Little announced today that Peptide Recepto Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT) treatment would be permanently available in New Zealand, but a date is yet to be confirmed.

The treatment will be offered at Auckland City Hospital under the new national cancer treatment service.

The news was greatly received by health practitioners and patients, who have historically had to travel to Australia for the treatment.

NETs are a rare form of cancer that attack the neuorendocrine system - where hormones are released.

Having complex tumours like NETs means the cells in the neuroendocrine system grow abnormally and symptoms like abdominal pain, heartburn, weight fluctuations and bloating appear.

For May Leaoseve it is an illness she knows all too well, as she has had a long battle with the complex cancer.

She struggled to gain weight and her body could not handle the harsh chemotherapy treatments, so PRRT was a valuable alternative.

"So I didn't respond well to chemo, but this treatment was non-evasive, I was able to do my normal things.

"My full time job is a mum which is really important to me," she said.

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Health Minister Andrew Little announced the treatment would be permanently offered in Auckland Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Little said having the treatment available nationally would greatly help patients and their whānau.

"The fact that we can offer the treatment here in New Zealand and so patients wherever they are in New Zealand can be supported by their DHB (district health board) to come to Auckland with a family member to get the treatment will make a huge difference.

"A lot of families who were requiring to go to Melbourne were struggling with that and could not necessarily support their loved one who needed the treatment so this will make a huge difference," he said.

The common types of NETs are gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumours, lung neuroendocrine tumours and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours.

The treatment involves injecting a radioactive medicine into patients and allowing the medicine to deliver a targeted high dose of radiation into the neuroendocrine system where vital cells are located.

Previously NET patients had to self fund their own travel and treatment in Australia.

Although PRRT treatment was easier than chemo for Leaoseve, she was not always well enough to travel to Australia, and if she did, returning to MIQ after treatment was a burden.

An interim centre was established in September last year, due to Covid restrictions. It will remain open until the permanent service is in place.

A permanent New Zealand-based treatment centre means patients will be able to be closely supported by families, networks and communities, Leaoseve said.

"I've had three treatments here in New Zealand and the team here who are running the programme, they're awesome.

"They will go over and above to meet each individual patient. The transition is really easy - we come into the hospital just like normal appointments, we have our treatment and then we're able to leave straight away and pretty much do things normally," she said.

The Unicorn Foundation charity helps to educate and support New Zealand sufferers of neuroendocrine tumours/carcinomas and their families.

Its chief executive Michelle Sullivan said the permanent treatment centre would remove the barriers of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

"We've got patients that wake up everyday not knowing if they're going to be able to access a treatment which is the difference between a lot more years of life or not.

"Now there's going to be 30 to 50 people every year who know that they can get that right here in Aotearoa no matter what's happening with Covid closures around the world."

PRRT treatment can assist in managing the cancerous symptoms and improve quality of life but it isn't a cure.

Leaoseve said she was doing much better since having treatment.

"I'm able to put on weight which is a huge plus and I'm able to just do the things that I love.

"I feel more useful... I'm just really happy."

The University of Auckland partnered in designing the PRRT service including measuring outcomes in real time, using genomics and patients participating in global clinical trials.

It was also made possible through a donation from the Antony and Margaret Morris Trust. Antony Morris was a well-known Auckland ophthalmologist and philanthropist.

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