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Hope for ovarian cancer drug
The West Australian

Australian women with ovarian cancer are a step closer to getting access to a new Government-funded drug to treat advanced stages of the disease.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has recommended that Avastin, a drug already used for bowel and lung cancers, be subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as a front-line treatment for stage IIIB, IIIC and IV ovarian cancer.

Pharmaceutical giant Roche's application was based on trials that showed the drug delayed the disease returning by an average of four months and had an overall survival benefit of five months.

It was supported by results from a survey by Ovarian Cancer Australia, which found that apart from any survival benefit, women with advanced disease wanted treatments that could improve their quality of life with few side effects.

While the Federal Government still needs to approve funding, Avastin would be the first new therapy for ovarian cancer to be put on the PBS since the late 1970s.

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer. About 1400 Australian women are diagnosed each year and more than 1000 women a year die from the disease.

Ovarian Cancer Australia chief executive Alison Amos said the organisation had interviewed women with late-stage ovarian cancer, asking about their diagnosis, treatment, history of the disease recurring and the key factors affecting their treatment choices.

As a result, her organisation had strongly recommended that the PBS subsidise the drug.

Ms Amos said women placed a strong emphasis on quality of life and the likely length of their first remission period, even if there was no or little improvement in survival.

Yet clinical trials of new therapies rarely focused on quality of life issues, and only judged the value of a therapy by how much it delayed the disease's progression and the overall survival benefit.

"Our role is to bring to the table the views of the Australian women who are living with ovarian cancer," Ms Amos said.

"If it is a better quality of life that women strive for, then any advancement in treatments should take this into account."