Plea over drugs for cancer patients

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am


A doctors' concern group is calling on the government to subsidise lung cancer drugs that can help prolong patients' lives by more than a year.

The Lung Cancer Treatment Concern Group yesterday made a public plea for the government to help pay for the drugs Erlotinib and Gefitinib, for which patients can pay HK$15,000 a month.

Patients who can't afford the drugs often opt for chemotherapy, which is covered by the government, but is less effective in slowing cancer growth. Chemotherapy also requires lengthy hospitalisation and causes serious side effects.

'People shouldn't have to think about emigrating to other countries for better health care when the Hong Kong government has the resources to do more to take care of its citizens,' group member Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a Polytechnic University sociology professor, said yesterday.

The Community Care Fund, underwritten by the government, has offered to subsidise the cost of Gefitinib, but it does not currently offer subsidies for Erlotinib, which targets cells differently than Gefitinib.

'That's just doing half the job,' said group member Dr Li Kwok-hung. 'They could help save 250 more lives if they spent HK$50 million a year, which isn't a lot.'

Erlotinib and Gefitinib slow the growth of cancer by interrupting the signals between mutated cells without harming healthy cells.

Some patients go online for generic versions of Erlotinib and Gefitinib, but put themselves at serious risk since there are many illegal websites that sell dangerous, untested drugs.

Ng Yuk-sim, 65, was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer in March. But after receiving one chemotherapy treatment, she was put on Erlotinib and was able to leave the hospital after one week.

Ng said she can get around the city on her own and can visit her grandchildren often.

She feels lucky she can take the medicine, but is worried about burdening her family.

'With the additional costs of hiring a maid to help me with chores and paying for special food, my illness is costing my family HK$40,000 a month,' she said.