A LUNG cancer pill available on the NHS halves the risk of dying within five years of treatment, a study found.
A doctor says the drug has already had "groundbreaking" results in US patients.
It works by plugging vital receptors that let cancer cells steal energy to grow.
The medicine is already used for some NHS patients after earlier research found it cuts the risk of the disease returning by more than 70 per cent.
But a 10-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals it saves lives, too – with those taking it after surgery for non-small cell lung cancer “significantly” less likely to die.
Dr Nathan Pennell, of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said: "It is hard to convey how important this finding is and how long it’s taken to get here.
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“This shows an unequivocal, highly significant improvement in survival.”
Dr Faiz Bhora, a chief surgeon from Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, US, said the drug's trial results were "earth-shattering".
"In the past, medical oncologists were happy with five percent or 10 per cent survival — and now we're talking about in excess of 50 per cent improvement in survival," he told Fox News.
The medic, who has prescribed the drug to his own patients, said the outcomes have been "groundbreaking".
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Lung tumours are the top cause of cancer death in the UK, with 49,000 cases per year.
Osimertinib could give precious extra time to more than 6,000 who have a type of non-small cell cancer with a mutation in the EGFR gene, which is more common in non-smokers.
The rare gene mutation means the “on switch” that makes a cancer cell grow is always on – but the drug can turn it off.
A patient’s story
One patient to benefit is 67-year-old Kim Mosko, from New Jersey, US.
The mother of two was diagnosed with stage 2A lung cancer in February.
When Kim's doctors determined in July that she has the genetic mutation, they recommended that she take Osimertinib.
"I needed no persuasion at all," she told Fox News. "I will do whatever is necessary to treat this cancer and lengthen my lifespan."
Kim has now been taking the pill for three and a half months, and she hopes to take it every day for the next three years.
"I don’t need to have hope," she said.
"I absolutely believe that this medication is going to make sure the lung cancer will not return. I am planning on living for many more years."
She has suffered some "manageable" side effects, including a skin rash, diarrhoea, and fatigue.
When will it be on the NHS?
Drug-maker AstraZeneca is now set to push for it to be used even more widely on the NHS.
Dr Susan Galbraith, executive vice president at the firm, said Britain needs better testing to identify all the patients who could benefit.
In May, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation accused ministers of “dragging their heels” on nationwide lung screening.
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An NHS spokesperson previously said: “This treatment, which halves the risk of this particular type of lung cancer returning, is already in use for people following an operation, thanks to a life-saving drug deal struck by the NHS two years ago.
“The NHS will look at the wider rollout of this drug for patients if it receives approval following this encouraging study.”
What are the main symptoms of lung cancer?
LUNG cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer.
More than 43,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.
There are usually no signs in the early stages, but many people eventually develop symptoms including:
- A persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Persistent breathlessness
- Unexplained tiredness and weight loss
- An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
The NHS urges anyone experiencing these symptoms to see their GP.
There are two main forms of primary lung cancer (cancer that begins in the lungs). These are:
- Non-small-cell lung cancer (squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma)
- Small-cell lung cancer
Treatment depends on the type of cancer and mutation, how far it has spread and your general health.
About two in five people with the condition live for at least one year after they're diagnosed, and about one in 10 people live at least 10 years.
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