New breast cancer treatment only takes minutes

The breast cancer treatment, known as Phesgo, is being offered by England's National Health Service.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read April 6, 2021
breast cancer treatment

The NHS in the U.K. has a new injection for women undergong a specific form of breast cancer. Getty

A revolutionary new breast cancer treatment that takes five minutes to administer is lightening the load on England’s healthcare system while reducing the risk of patients contracting COVID-19 in hospital.

The treatment, known as Phesgo, is being offered by the country’s National Health Service to people who are undergoing chemotherapy for HER2-positive breast cancer, according to Science Focus. This form of breast cancer, which accounts for around 20 per cent of all breast cancer diagnoses, occurs when cancer cells have extra copies of the protein that makes the HER2 protein, according to the Mayo Clinic. This protein promotes the growth of cancerous cells and makes it a particularly aggressive form of the disease. Treatments targeting this form of breast cancer have proven very effective. Now, they’re more efficient, too.

Phesgo breast cancer treatment

“This five-minute injection will be life-changing for cancer patients across the country, allowing them to spend more time away from the hospital and with their loved ones,” said Matt Hancock, England’s Health Secretary.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Canadian women after non-melanoma skin cancer, with just under 27,000 new cases — and 5,000 deaths — estimated to have occurred in 2019 by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Around one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives, with one in 33 succumbing to it. The disease accounts for 25 per cent of new cancer cases and 13 per cent of cancer deaths among Canadian women.

Treatment for HER2 breast cancer

Phesgo combines two drugs — pertuzumab and trastuzumab — that have proven effective against HER2 breast cancer when combined with chemotherapy. With the drugs no longer needing to be administered as two separate intravenous infusions, treatment time has dropped from hours to mere minutes. “Reducing the time patients need to spend in hospital, this more efficient treatment method also promises to free up precious time for healthcare professionals when the NHS is already under unprecedented strain due to COVID-19,” said Baroness Delyth Morgan, CEO of the Breast Cancer Now charity.

This “quicker and kinder” method of treatment will apply to more than 3,600 new patients on an annual basis, according to NHS England. Some, including Paula Lamb — a 51-year-old woman who was diagnosed in 2014, are already reaping the benefits even as the country wages war against the pandemic.

“It feels absolutely amazing to be one of the first people to receive this treatment through the NHS,” she said. “It really could not have come at a better time as lockdown lifts and I can stop shielding. I’m currently on a combination of medications which take about an hour-and-a-half to two hours to administer all together, and I have to go into hospital to have them every three weeks.

“Having a five-minute treatment means I’ll have more time to get out on walks, for my gardening, knitting and to help my daughter practise her cricket skills. It’s a real life-changer.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer

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