Uveal melanoma cancer patient 'devastated' to be priced out of treatment not funded by NHS

Undated handout photo issued by OcuMel UK of Megan McClay, 29, from Wymondham, Norfolk, who was diagnosed with uveal melanoma in 2020, and was informed that some tumours had spread to her liver. 
Credit: OcuMel/Handout
Megan McClay from Norfolk says she cannot afford chemosaturation treatment. Credit: Handout/OcuMel UK

A cancer patient fears her survival chances may be lower because she cannot afford treatment she believes would give her a better chance of beating the disease.

Megan McClay, 29, from Wymondham in Norfolk, was diagnosed with ocular - or uveal - melanoma in 2020, and was informed some tumours had spread to her liver.

In cases such as hers, a treatment known as chemosaturation therapy - or percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP) - has been found to be effective in nearly 90% of patients, according to a charity.

But it is not available on the NHS - a decision which has left Ms McClay "devastated".

“Upon learning that the cancer had spread to my liver, one of my biggest concerns was the availability of treatment options," she said.

“Unfortunately my options are limited as I simply cannot afford chemosaturation.

“This is deeply troubling for myself, my family and for the many others in a similar situation. I am devastated that I will not be able to experience the hope that this treatment brings.

“The confidence and assurance of having access to treatment options is fundamental for prolonging life and maintaining quality of life.

“I, of course, have a strong desire to survive for as long as possible and it worries me that finances may be what prevents this from happening.”

Megan McClay pictured in hospital during her treatment. Credit: Ocumel UK/Handout

Around 750 cases of uveal melanoma are diagnosed in the UK every year and around 50% of these lead to a secondary cancer, known as metastases.

This occurs in the liver in more than 85% of patients, but limited treatment options available on the NHS mean just 10% to 25% survive for a year after their diagnosis.

The national charity OcuMel UK supports patients affected by the cancer and says that PHP has been effective in almost 90% of patients.

The charity says that despite this success and PHP being highlighted as a treatment option by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2021, the NHS is still refusing to fund its use.

Neil Pearce, a recently retired consultant surgeon and chairman of OcuMel UK, said: “It really is devastating that patients with ocular melanoma that has spread to the liver are being denied access to a treatment proven to boost survival, with no NHS commissioned service and every individual funding request put to NHS England denied.

“We have patients individually fundraising and paying to go private, but most simply cannot afford to do so, and that is wrong. We are calling on decision-makers to address these issues as a matter of priority to save lives.”

A NHS England spokesman said: “While Nice incorporated chemosaturation therapy into the available treatment options, it specifically advised using it with caution.

“NHS England also identified there was insufficient evidence to make it routinely available and will look to review the evidence again later this year.”

What is chemosaturation?

An OcuMel UK spokesman explained that the PHP procedure worked by isolating the liver from the rest of the body and ‘bathing’ it in chemotherapy.

He added that it involved using two small balloons to divert blood past the liver for an hour while delivering drugs directly into the organ.

He said: “It allows doctors to administer much larger doses of the drug than patients would receive with standard chemotherapy as it does not enter the bloodstream and cause unnecessary damage to healthy parts of the body.”

In a study published in the journal Melanoma Research, researchers found liver cancers were controlled in 88.9% of patients who had received chemosaturation therapy, with 62% of patients surviving for a year and 30% after two years.

The average length of survival in those studied was 15 months, but, in some cases, ongoing cycles of chemosaturation therapy have almost removed patients’ cancers completely.

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