Eye cancer charity calls on NHS to fund treatment that boosts survival rates


charity which supports patients with the most common form of eye cancer is calling on the NHS to end its “devastating” failure to fund a treatment which can “significantly boost survival.”

Around 750 cases of ocular – or uveal – melanoma are diagnosed in the UK every year and around 50% of these lead to a secondary cancer, known as metastases.

This occurs in the liver in more than 85% of patients, but limited treatment options available on the NHS mean just 10% to 25% survive for a year after their diagnosis.

A treatment known as chemosaturation therapy – or percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP) – has been found to be effective in almost 90% of patients, according to national charity OcuMel UK which supports patients affected by the cancer.

The charity says that despite this success and PHP being highlighted as a treatment option by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2021, the NHS is still refusing to fund its use.

Neil Pearce, a recently retired consultant surgeon and chairman of OcuMel UK, said: “It really is devastating that patients with ocular melanoma that has spread to the liver are being denied access to a treatment proven to boost survival, with no NHS commissioned service and every individual funding request put to NHS England denied.

“We have patients individually fundraising and paying to go private, but most simply cannot afford to do so, and that is wrong. We are calling on decision-makers to address these issues as a matter of priority to save lives.”

Megan McClay, 29, from Wymondham, Norfolk, was diagnosed with uveal melanoma in 2020, and was informed some tumours had spread to her liver.

He said: “Upon learning that the cancer had spread to my liver, one of my biggest concerns was the availability of treatment options.

“Unfortunately my options are limited as I simply cannot afford chemosaturation.

“This is deeply troubling for myself, my family and for the many others in a similar situation. I am devastated that I will not be able to experience the hope that this treatment brings.

“The confidence and assurance of having access to treatment options is fundamental for prolonging life and maintaining quality of life.

“I, of course, have a strong desire to survive for as long as possible and it worries me that finances may be what prevents this from happening.”

An OcuMel UK spokesman explained that the PHP procedure worked by isolating the liver from the rest of the body and ‘bathing’ it in chemotherapy.

He added that it involved using two small balloons to divert blood past the liver for an hour while delivering drugs directly into the organ.

He said: “It allows doctors to administer much larger doses of the drug than patients would receive with standard chemotherapy as it does not enter the bloodstream and cause unnecessary damage to healthy parts of the body.”

In a study published in the journal Melanoma Research, researchers found liver cancers were controlled in 88.9% of patients who had received chemosaturation therapy, with 62% of patients surviving for a year and 30% after two years.

The average length of survival in those studied was 15 months, but, in some cases, ongoing cycles of chemosaturation therapy have almost removed patients’ cancers completely.

A NHS England spokesman said: ““While Nice incorporated chemosaturation therapy into the available treatment options, it specifically advised using it with caution.

“NHS England also identified there was insufficient evidence to make it routinely available and will look to review the evidence again later this year.”

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