A drug that provides quality of life for women who have an inherited form of advanced ovarian cancer has been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, offering a ray of hope in the battle against the deadly disease.
The PBS listing of Lynparza (olaparib), the first oral prescription medicine for women with BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer, has been heralded as the "most significant development in the past 30 years" in treatment.
"Treatment options for women with ovarian cancer have not changed since the 1980s," said Jane Hill, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Lynparza is a maintenance drug that has been proven to delay the recurrence of the disease and therefore delays the need for further rounds of chemotherapy and improves the patient's quality of life.
The treatment is specific to this subset of ovarian cancer because its design is based on the actual BRACA defect some women have inherited.
It is not a cure but ovarian cancer is often terminal and this drug gives these women the quality of life they're desperate for, says Ms Hill.
"They want to live well and have more time with their family and this is what this drug does for some women."
Approved by the Therapeutic Goods Adminstration (TGA) in January last year, it was only available to those who could afford it at a cost of $13,500 for a six month treatment.
Now it can be purchased for a maximum of $38 a month by those women with BRCA-related ovarian cancer.
Of the 1550 Australian women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, about 20 per cent will benefit from the PBS listing.
This is a significant number of women to benefit from this drug that matches the genetic defect they inherited, said oncologist Clare Scott from the Ovarian Cancer Laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and Royal Melbourne and Royal Women's Hospitals.
"Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer today have a really frightening future, so to have a treatment option for that 20 per cent is a very good step in the right direction," Prof Scott said.
One Australian woman dies every 10 hours from ovarian cancer.
With no screening test and symptoms that are hard to detect, most women are diagnosed at an advanced stage when cancer is difficult.
Only 43 per cent will survive the disease beyond five years and for most the road to death is hard.
Treatment involves major surgery with the removal of a woman's ovaries, fallopian tubes and womb. Many sufferers also face many rounds of chemotherapy.
Both Ms Hill and Prof Scott say more research is vital if Australians want to see further progress in treatment and improved detection and screening.
'I would have had to sell my house'
Kristin Young is a 54-year-old Sydney woman who is in remission for ovarian cancer for the second time.
Her cancer is advanced, but she considers herself among the lucky few.
“To be honest, I am a bit embarrassed that because I’ve been on a clinical trial for Olaparib, I have access to something so many people can’t pay for.”
That’s changed, with the drug now included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, reducing its monthly cost from $2,250 to $38.
“I don’t have that cash, I would have had to sell my house,” Ms Young said.
“But being on it has, I believe, kept me from needing chemo and allowed me to live a life where I can work and… contribute to society.”
Cancer Council CEO Sanchia Aranda said increasing access to Olaparib will have broader, positive implications for many other patients.
“The drug will likely go to trial and we are hopeful it will be found to be effective in improving length and quality of life for a broader range of sufferers,” Ms Aranda said.