The Knesset Committee for Advancing the Status of Women called on Acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert to urgently find funding to supply the expensive drug Herceptin to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer in women who have had a first tumor treated.
Although recent studies have shown that the drug, which costs each patient NIS 150,000 a year, is very effective for secondary prevention of breast tumors, it is included in the basket of health services only for women who have metastases that originated in a breast tumor. Research has shown that Herceptin reduces the risk of a recurrence by 52 percent.
Prof. Moshe Inbar, chief of oncology at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center, said that 52% prevention of recurrence is a "dramatic achievement."
"The time has come for us to be a pioneer and example to other countries and include it in the basket to prevent recurrence. The most expensive patient in the field of oncology is one in the last year of his or her life. Giving Herceptin to relevant patients can save a lot of money," he added.
Committee chairman Anat Gavrieli appealed to Olmert to take action, as many families were selling their assets to buy the drug to prevent another bout with cancer. She noted that Canada, Britain, Germany and French are moving to supply the drug to patients without even waiting for them to register.
Gavrieli said she had been persuaded by leading oncologists that Herceptin for preventing a recurrence of breast cancer was indeed a lifesaver and should be included in the basket of services for prevention of additional tumors in breast cancer patients.
"It will eventually get in, but it would be terrible to lose women who need it now."
Aviva Shatzberg, a mother of four who has survived breast cancer, told the committee on Tuesday that she wants to live.
"I contributed to the country and I deserve for the state to care care of me and give me my life," she said.
Dr. Noa Ben Baruch, an oncologist at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot, said that Herceptin is "among the first biological drugs that work on the switch that turns on malignancy. It is specific to this kind of tumor, and its influence is dramatic. We haven't seen such promising results like these for 30 years. We must find a quick solution even before it is formally put into the basket."
Dr. Bela Kaufman of the breast cancer unit at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said she and her colleagues feel like "helpless soldiers at the front, because we must tell them about a very successful treatment that is beyond the means of most patients."
Intermediate funding of Herceptin for such patients must be established immediately," said Miri Ziv, the director-general of the Israel Cancer Association, who suggested that a special fund be instituted to cover the costs of lifesaving drugs whose efficacy has been proven but which have not yet been added to the basket supplied by the health funds.
Dr. Osnat Luxemburg, the Health Ministry's head of medical technologies, said that Herceptin studies on preventing recurrence are "very impressive and promising, but they are early. We are following the medical significance. We must observe state laws that allow us to add drugs to the basket only if we have a source of funds. If the basket is not updated significantly by the Treasury every year, we'll find ourselves in a situation in which the citizen must cover the costs himself."
The ministry's public committee that recommends what drugs to add to the basket, based on the Treasury's allocations for expansion, will soon begin to hold sessions regarding the basket for 2006.