BALLARAT oncologist Craig Carden says the drug abiraterone could revolutionalise how prostate cancer is treated in Australia and he has joined the call for the federal government to list the drug on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Dr Carden, based with Ballarat Cancer Care at St John of God Hospital, said treatment options for men with prostate cancer were limited, particularly for those who showed signs of resistance against chemotherapy. He is seeing the difference first-hand with his patients.
The drug treatment had been scientifically found to increase the average survival of a prostate cancer patient by five months, which was a big change, he said.
“One of the issues we’re dealing with is that it can cost a patient $3500 per month for the treatment,” Dr Carden said.
“It’s TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) approved and there has been an access program for about 200 people across Australia since October ... I’ve had a lot of support from my patients.
“It’s an important part of treatment.”
Dr Carden has worked with the drug as a leading researcher in a three-year stint at the Royal Marsden in London before working at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne and moving to Ballarat two years ago. He is treating seven patients via the access program.
Abiraterone (Zytiga), four tablets prescribed once a day – as long as it is working – helps control the disease by targeting hormone production, particularly of testosterone.
Gerry Casey, aged 74, has felt a positive difference in treatment under Dr Carden’s care since late October.
“Chemotherapy knocked me around so much, too hard. I was tired, irritable and it cost me dearly,” Mr Casey said.
“Having gone on this new one, I’ve lifted up and my average day is pretty good.
“The only side effect is sleep. I tend to wake up every couple of hours.”
Mr Casey has castration-resistant prostate cancer which was diagnosed in 2009 and initially treated with 39 hits of radiotherapy within seven weeks.
Six months later, the cancer returned and he undertook first-line chemotherapy taxotere and later second-line chemotherapy cabazetaxel.
Under the new treatment, Mr Casey’s PSA levels (Prostate-Specific Antigens) have dropped dramatically from 51 to 19 – a vast improvement.
Dr Carden said abiraterone was a giant step forward for prostate cancer patients, most whom were aged in their 70s and suffered major side-effects from aggressive chemotherapy.