Northern Ireland

Prostate cancer drug, abiraterone, approved for NHS use in Northern Ireland

Prostate cancer cells
Image caption Abiraterone has been shown to extend the lives of prostate cancer patients in clinical trials

A "breakthrough" drug which can prolong the lives of men with terminal prostate cancer is to be made available to NHS patients in Northern Ireland.

Abiraterone has been shown to extend the lives of patients by more than three months, but it is expensive and there have been concerns over cost.

The drug has already been approved for NHS use in England and Wales.

The charity, Prostate Cancer UK, said it could also "significantly reduce pain and other symptoms" for sufferers.

It welcomed the move, having campaigned for abiraterone to be accessible to all NHS patients "regardless of where they live in the UK".

'Quality of life'

Owen Sharp, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said: "This is a long overdue piece of good news for all the men with incurable prostate cancer in Northern Ireland."

He added: "We therefore urge local health boards in Northern Ireland to waste no time in putting in place the necessary arrangements to ensure that men who need the drug can access it without delay."

The charity said that in clinical trials, abiraterone had been proven to help men with advanced prostate cancer - and who were no longer responding to other treatments - to live longer and with a better quality of life than those patients who were were not given the drug.

However, there were concerns over the price of the treatment and it was initially rejected for NHS use in England and Wales because, at £3,000 per patient per month, it was not seen as cost effective.

Final decision

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer affecting men in the UK, and about 10,000 patients die from the disease every year.

Mr Sharp said that although the charity was "delighted" with the decision in Northern Ireland, it would now continue its campaign to ensure abiraterone would be made available on the NHS in Scotland.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium is currently reviewing abiraterone for use in Scotland and is expected to make a final decision on 13 August.

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