St James Settlement aids brain cancer patients with HK$1.4m drug subsidies


St James' Settlement is putting up HK$1.4 million in drug subsidies for brain cancer patients who fall outside the government's medical coverage.

The charity is also calling for wider welfare coverage for patients in need.

Its community pharmacy says the subsidy will benefit around 25 patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and fast-growing brain tumour.

More than half of GBM patients will die within a year without treatment, says the Hong Kong Neuro-Oncology Society, which is involved in the subsidy programme.

Around 75 patients a year in the city suffer from GBM, according to the cancer registry. About a third of them have tumours that respond better to chemotherapy and are therefore eligible for a government subsidy. The rest are not eligible.

"We realise that there's a gap," said Cooke Cheung Tat-cheong, St James' senior manager of partnership and alliance.

Dr Stephen Yau, a clinical oncologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the society's president, says that chemotherapy allied with radiotherapy and surgery increases a patient's odds of survival. The tumour is highly invasive and it is hard for surgeons to totally remove it in certain parts of the brain.

For GBM patients who underwent surgery and radiotherapy, their survival rate in five years after diagnosis is five per cent. The rate rises to 14 per cent for those who have chemotherapy as well as surgery and radiotherapy, a study in 2009 shows.

The charity's programme will subsidise around 46 per cent of the full course of treatment that uses Temozolomide, an oral drug. The treatment costs HK$120,000 on average.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Charity aids brain cancer patients