Hundreds of cancer patients in Wales are missing out on vital tests each year that can lead to targeted personalised cancer treatment, according to a new report from Cancer Research UK published on Tuesday 29th September.
The report looked at the NHS’s molecular diagnostic testing service for cancer patients in Wales. These are tests that can identify the genetic faults underpinning a patient’s cancer, some of which can be hit with targeted therapies. The report focused on patients with skin, lung and bowel cancer, where targeted drugs are already available on the NHS.
In 2014, it is estimated that around 1,600 molecular diagnostic tests were not carried out in Wales although patients were entitled to have them. In lung and bowel cancers alone, around 1,000 eligible patients weren’t offered these tests*. And about a quarter of these patients could have been given targeted treatments, meaning that nearly 250 lung and bowel cancer patients missed out on medicines that could have changed the course of their disease.
The main reason for missed tests is that there is no national funding mechanism for these tests in Wales. In addition, not all doctors are aware that testing is available for their patients.
The 2012 Welsh Cancer Delivery Plan highlighted the need for providing these tests to patients. But, they are still not routinely available to all patients who need them.
The report – commissioned by Cancer Research UK and produced by health consultancy Concentra – says that dedicated investment is needed each year to meet the demand for tests and make sure the services keep up to date, as new treatments become available and new biomarkers are found that can be added to the tests.
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Despite much talk about innovation in care, the NHS is once again lagging behind, and patients aren’t getting tested to see if they might benefit from new types of treatment.
“It’s lamentable that routine molecular diagnostic testing still hasn’t been established, more than two years after Cancer Research UK showed how it can be done with our Stratified Medicine Programme. Within this programme we’ve delivered thousands of molecular diagnostic tests, including many through the All Wales Molecular Genetics Laboratory in Cardiff, which shows this is feasible.
“Molecular diagnostic tests can help doctors to choose more tailored treatments that may improve survival for their patients, allow patients to take part in clinical trials and potentially reduce side effects from less effective treatments: they are not an optional extra.”
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: “We need to see greater investment and leadership from NHS Wales to organise national commissioning of molecular diagnostic testing. And, if action isn’t taken, Wales will fall behind as these tests are now routine in many other countries.
“In some cases, patients have missed out on treatments that could have given them priceless extra months with their friends and families. In order to make sure thousands of patients don’t continue to miss out, it’s essential that the Welsh Government acts on the recommendations in this report, which calls for NHS Wales to properly commission these tests.”