UK politician’s £240,000-a-year cancer-fighting skull cap

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:
Jowell

Dame Tessa Jowell

Former UK Labour minister Dame Tessa Jowell is using a pioneering £240,000-a-year device to tackle her deadly brain cancer. According to a Daily Mail report, it takes the form of a “skull cap” carrying an array of electrodes that fire minute electrical currents into the head to try to destroy her tumour. The treatment is provided on compassionate grounds through the National Health Service (NHS) with costs covered by Novacare, the company that makes the device.

The report says Dame Tessa, a former Labour Culture Minister, has been fighting the deadliest of brain cancers, glioblastoma, for almost a year. Average survival rate is little more than a year, and it has been discovered that her mutant form fails to respond to chemotherapy.

She is being treated with the device, called Optune, at London’s Charing Cross Hospital, by neuro-oncologist Dr Matt Williams and is one of just a handful of patients using it.

About 4,000 people a year in the UK develop glioblastoma, with Williams estimating that the Optune device could help to buy more time for 1,000 treatment-resistant patients such as Dame Tessa.

A trial of 700 people found that after two years of treatment, 43% of patients receiving Optune electrode therapy alongside the chemotherapy drug temozolomide were still alive, compared to 30% of patients treated with temozolomide alone. At five years, survival rate was 13% compared to 5%.

The report says in a speech to the House of Lords, Dame Tessa argued that brain-cancer treatments in the UK were not as good as in the rest of Europe and called for better access to the latest treatments.

Williams says Optune is not a cure and the current costs are prohibitive. “The device costs £20,000 a month to rent. The NHS wants to use it but we have to find a more economic model of treatment.”

Daily Mail report

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