In many respects I have been fortunate with my own cancer treatment. I was given a clear treatment plan, and although it involved extremely aggressive toxic drugs and a stem cell transplant, my body tolerated what was thrown at it, and the cancer is incredibly still in remission. However I have been unable to lead a normal life, as this treatment has led to many health complications, and that is the price I have had to pay. But what if the standard treatment had failed? Mantle Cell Lymphoma is a rare aggressive blood cancer and although treatments have improved in recent years, they are still limited. I guess I would have to step outside the system if all else failed.
As a patient I have become closeted inside the healthcare regime that looks after me, and trust the system that has kept me alive beyond reasonable expectations. However my support work has shown me a lot of what is happening outside that, and how innovation is attempting to shake up some of the traditional methods to improve patient outcomes, not just in survival but in quality of life too. So when I was contacted by the Care Oncology Clinic in London, I was interested to learn more about their work. I have to admit to a degree of scepticism, when it comes to private oncology care, so met personally with Dr Robin Bannister the CEO, to ask some searching questions!
I was struck by the incredible passion of Dr Bannister, to help people affected by cancer, and his own very moving story regarding why he started the work he now does.
“My wife, Ginnie, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in May 2005, at the age of 41. She went through the standard cancer treatments of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy but found she was allergic to these treatments and experienced with horrendous side-effects. In 2012 the cancer had spread and Ginnie was diagnosed with secondary cancer in her lungs.Following this secondary diagnosis, she was treated with more drugs but unfortunately had an adverse reaction to the cytotoxic drugs, which led to her becoming very ill, diminishing her quality of life enormously. The symptoms had a huge impact on Ginnie’s life; leaving her regularly experiencing breathing and mobility difficulties as well as fatigue.
As a result of the allergic reactions and from my line of work as a drug discovery and development scientist, I thought about how ‘standard’ cancer drugs were not working and designed a regimen that I thought may help Ginnie. I knew of medications that have fewer and more tolerable side effects. We started to investigate other options open to Ginnie, which would treat her cancer whilst still providing her with a good quality of life. As important as it was for Ginnie to get better, she also wanted to be able to enjoy life. With some treatments you may get a few extra months, but is it worth spending this time in discomfort and pain?This led to the development of the METRICs study as the side-effects of the study drugs are relatively mild. The prescribed medicines in the study are well-established in other diseases, used by a large number of people over a long period of time, with known and acceptable side-effects.
Since Ginnie started the study she has seen some very positive results, her tumours have been shrinking. She also feels much better physically and her quality of life has improved immensely.If this can work for Ginnie, why can’t it work for other cancer sufferers? Although, statistically it may be too early to say, we are seeing more patients with similar results, but we need more patients so we can collect more data. Patients on the study are continuing to see great results, however, we need more people to find out about the study and know it is another treatment option available for them. Eventually, the aim is to gather enough data so these drugs can be changed to be licenced for the treatment of cancer, allowing them to be readily available to many more patients.
As we have all heard in the media lately that the cost of some cancer treatments to the NHS is astronomical, with some treatments costing up to £100,000 per patient per year. The generic medicines used in the study are cheap and already available. If the study is successful, the potential cost-savings to the UK economy could be enormous. The combination of the positive patient results shown so far and the potential cost saving drives me to continue the study and help as many people as we can.“
A lot of the incredible work that is being done in the cancer sector now is by people who have had their own personal experiences and see a way to improve things for others. Innovation is coming thick and fast and in many instances, change cannot come quickly enough. Our success rates with many cancers has not changed in decades, despite much time and money being spent. Ultimately we are still either burning, poisoning, or cutting it from our bodies, with quality of life afterwards very much a second thought. But what if this approach doesn’t work for you? There are clinical trials and new studies being done all the time, and of course not every one is successful, but we continue to learn and improve, which will help the next generation of people affected by cancer.
I would like to wish Ginnie Bannister the very best with her on-going health battle and thank Dr Bannister for inviting me to see the valuable work that is being done at The Care Oncology Clinic. If you feel that this study may be helpful for you or would like to find out more about the services offered at the clinic please click here.