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Lack of DHB testing means lung cancer patients could be missing out on life-prolonging drugs


New Zealanders with lung cancer could be missing out on a life-prolonging drug because of a discrepancy in cancer screenings between district health boards.

An oncologist has told 1 NEWS some regions have not been automatically testing for a specific mutation of the cancer, the ALK biomarker, because its treatment has not been funded in the past and was too costly for many to consider.

About 150 patients a year are diagnosed with the mutation.

The drug is believed to lift average life expectancy from six months to more than five years.

Middlemore Hospital lung cancer specialist Dr Paul Dawkins said there were arguments "in some quarters" that there was no point in testing for the mutation if the drug was not available in New Zealand.

But Dr Dawkins said he thought it was important to find out how many patients had the mutation to provide "an argument for funding".

He said testing would also give patients the option to self-fund or crowdfund.

Lung Foundation NZ chief executive Philip Hope said his message to patients now with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer is to get their tumours tested for the mutation.

"The reality is, [the testing has] been a standard for three years," he said.

"There's been no independent organisation there making sure the DHBs are doing the testing."

Rae Collins, whose cancer was tested for the mutation, said the medication cost her $6500 a month. She had been funding her treatment for seven months.

"The shock of having to fund my meds was bigger than the diagnosis," she said.

With Pharmac starting funding for the drug Alectinib next month, and the drug company providing free access for those in need before then, DHBs should begin routine testing for the mutation.

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An oncologist says some DHBs haven't been testing for a specific mutation because the treatment hasn't been funded. Source: 1 NEWS


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