You may hear stories in the news about new medicines for treating prostate cancer. This page explains why new medicines are often not widely available in the UK. It also explains how you can apply to get a new medicine if it is not currently available in your area.

This page only includes information on medicines for prostate cancer. It does not include information on other new treatments, for example, new types of surgery or radiotherapy.

Once a new medicine for prostate cancer has been given a licence for use in the UK, doctors are allowed to prescribe it for men who are suitable for treatment. However, your local healthcare provider may decide not to provide the medicine on the NHS until it has been recommended for use by:

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What do NICE and the SMC do?

NICE weighs up the evidence on how well a medicine works and how much it costs. It then recommends whether or not the medicine should be available on the NHS in England and Wales. It can take several months for NICE to come to a decision.

If you live in England, your local healthcare provider is legally obliged to fund any medicine that is recommended by NICE, if it is a suitable treatment for you.

If you live in Wales, the All Wales Medicine Strategy Group (AWMSG) can decide whether or not to fund a drug - but only until NICE make their decision. After that, the AWMSG must follow NICE's recommendation.

In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department of Health have one month to consider new NICE decisions; they don't have to follow NICE's recommendations.

The SMC do a similar job to NICE in Scotland. However, even if the SMC approve a drug, health boards in Scotland don't have to make it available for free.

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Can I get a medicine on the NHS before NICE and the SMC have recommended it?

Your local healthcare provider may choose to make a licensed medicine available on the NHS before it is recommended by NICE or the SMC. This means that your doctor can prescribe the medicine for you, so long as they think it is suitable for you, and you decide you want to have it.

If your local healthcare provider will not make a licensed medicine available on the NHS before it is recommended by NICE or the SMC, your cancer specialist may still be able to get the medicine for you.

How they do this depends on where you live:

If you live in England, your cancer specialist can apply to the Cancer Drugs Fund. You can read more about this in the sections below.

If you live in Wales, your cancer specialist can apply to your Local Health Board. You may hear this called an exceptional funding request. Ask your cancer specialist for more information.

If you live in Northern Ireland, your cancer specialist can apply to your local Health and Social Care Trust. You may hear this called an exceptional funding request. Ask your cancer specialist for more information.

If you live in Scotland, your cancer specialist can apply to your Local Health Board. You may hear this called an individual funding request. Ask your cancer specialist for more information.

 

You may also be able to get the medicine by taking part in a clinical trial. To find out if there are any clinical trials that would be suitable for you, you can:

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What is the Cancer Drugs Fund?

The Cancer Drugs Fund is money the government in England has put aside to pay for cancer medicines that are licensed but have not been approved by NICE and are not available on the NHS. It covers:

  • medicines that have not yet been looked at by NICE
  • medicines that NICE are currently looking at
  • medicines that NICE have looked at and said do not work well enough, or are not cost-effective
  • medicines that NICE have looked at but have only recommended for a very specific group of patients.

The aim of the fund is to allow people with cancer to get the medicines that doctors think will help them.

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How do I apply to the Cancer Drugs Fund?

If your cancer specialist thinks a medicine is suitable for you and you decide you want to have it, your cancer specialist will need to apply for it for you. You cannot apply directly yourself. 

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How does the Cancer Drugs Fund work?

A group of cancer specialists, called a Cancer Drugs Fund panel, decides which medicines should be available through the Cancer Drugs Fund. There is a list of medicines, called a priority list, which the panel have decided they will pay for. The priority list may change from time to time as new medicines become available. For each medicine on the list, there are usually guidelines about who the medicine is suitable for.

Abiraterone, cabazitaxel and enzalutamide are all on the priority list. This means that if you are suitable for treatment, it is likely that you will be able to have it.

Ask your cancer specialist for more information about the Cancer Drugs Fund. You can also get more detailed information from CancerHelp UK.

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How long will I have to wait for a decision on my Cancer Drugs Fund application?

You should get a decision about whether you can have the drug within 31 days. But it is often sooner than this.

Your specialist should tell you how long the process is likely to take. If the decision is no, you will be given clear reasons why. Your specialist can appeal against the decision if they believe the panel has overlooked important information or if your condition changes.

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