A fluorescent “dye” or as it is more commonly known, a “pink drink”, which helps doctors target brain tumours is being rolled out across the NHS in memory of Tessa Jowell, the Health and Social Care Secretary has announced.
Whilst the treatment has been in use in a few NHS hospitals over the past decade, it will now be used in every neurological centre in England. This is something Baroness Jowell campaigned for so vigorously towards the end of her battle with brain cancer.
Around 2,000 brain cancer patients a year stand to benefit from the “pink drink” solution, which the Labour peer described as the “gold standard” of treatment.
The 5-ALA dye makes cancerous cells glow under UltraViolet light, enabling surgeons accurately to target diseased areas.
Trials indicate that the whole tumour can be successfully removed in 70.5% of cases where the treatment is used, compared to around 30% without it.
The announcement comes a year after the death of Baroness Tessa Jowell from brain cancer.
The Labour MP was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, the most common cancerous brain tumour in adults, in May 2017, and went on to campaign for better funding and treatments for the disease.
Mr Hancock said: “Tessa Jowell fought passionately and courageously for more recognition of rare brain cancers before she tragically passed away last year. One year on, the effects of her tireless campaigning can already been seen.
“I am proud to announce we have now rolled out this groundbreaking treatment aid across the country, transforming care for 2,000 patients every year – a fitting testament to Tessa’s memory.”
Ten-year survival across all brain cancers remains at around 14 % in England and Wales.
In January last year Baroness Jowell earned a standing ovation as she revealed to the House of Lords the extent of her glioblastoma and urged health chiefs to make 5-ALA available across the NHS.
In a speech that moved some members to tears, she said: “I am not afraid,” but added: “I am fearful that this new and important approach may be put into the “too difficult” box, but I also have such great hope.”
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy and public affairs, said: “Brain tumours remain a huge challenge, with survival barely improving over the last 30 years, and making 5-ALA available across the NHS is one of Dame Tessa Jowell’s many legacies.”
Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, the lead for neuro-oncology at Kings College Hospital in London said the move could save thousands of lives across the UK every year.
“This drug helps us because it can differentiate and delineate a tumour a lot better than it would be under an ordinary white light, so the better we can see, the more clear the margins.
“You’re going to be able to remove more of the tumour, and hopefully with less risks, and therefore actually get a better outcome for the patients.”
Professor Ashkan was one of the first doctors in the country to use the 5-ALA treatment over a decade ago. Since then, he has been training medics from across the world.