Siobhain McDonagh MP tells us about becoming a Breast Cancer Ambassador and securing a parliamentary debate on access to breast cancer drugs.
There are few people whose lives have not been touched by breast cancer. This disease can affect anybody - I have close friends who are living with breast cancer, a fellow MP finished their treatment last year and another colleague has just begun their treatment. Breast cancer simply cannot be ignored, which is why I decided to take action and become a Breast Cancer Ambassador.
Breast Cancer Ambassadors are MPs who work to ensure that breast cancer stays high on the political agenda. We are committed to helping Breast Cancer Now achieve their goal that if we all act now, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live.
Access to breast cancer drugs
As a Breast Cancer Ambassador, I believe that the most clinically effective breast cancer treatments should be reaching the patients who need them. This is why I was so concerned to hear in December 2016 that Kadcyla, a revolutionary drug that treats incurable secondary breast cancer, had been provisionally rejected for use on the NHS.
Kadcyla has transformed the lives of my two friends: Samantha and Leslie.
Samantha, who I have known since primary school, told me how she struggled to cope with the side effects of chemotherapy. It was almost impossible for her to work and “exhaustion and hair loss was just the least of it.” Since taking Kadcyla, she has experienced far fewer side effects and is able to lead a normal life, including running a business.
Only four months after finishing intensive treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, my friend Leslie found out that her cancer had returned. Kadcyla was one of her few remaining treatment options. She has now been taking Kadcyla for 22 months, and the drug has enabled her to live normally and contribute to local community life. Leslie told me, “I feel profoundly fortunate to have received it and I am incredulous that such an effective drug will now be denied to other people in my situation.”
In response to the rejection of Kadcyla, I secured a parliamentary debate on access to breast cancer drugs with the support of dozens of other MPs, including many Breast Cancer Ambassadors.
The debate, held on 26 January, gave MPs an opportunity to discuss why innovative drugs such as Kadcyla, as well as cheap repurposed drugs like bisphosphonates, are failing to reach breast cancer patients that could benefit from them.
I was delighted to meet Breast Cancer Now campaigners after the debate and hear more about their experiences. Some of them are currently taking Kadcyla and others hope to take it as their next treatment option. Bonnie Fox told me what a difference Kadcyla would make to her life - she has a two year old son that she hopes to see start school. The voices of women such as Bonnie are vital when considering the availability of cancer drugs and I was pleased that so many of their stories were shared by MPs during the debate.
While we eagerly anticipate the final decision on Kadcyla, I am also calling for broader reform of the drugs appraisal system. We are seeing effective treatment after effective treatment for breast cancer being rejected, such as Kadcyla and palbociclib, highlighting that the system is not fit for purpose.
Access to life-enhancing and life-saving drugs should be a right, not based on a postcode lottery. The campaigners I met after the debate and women across the country deserve better than that.
Find out if your MP is a Breast Cancer Ambassador and take action if they aren't.