Following extensive lobbying by BCNA and others, the Australian Government has committed $32.6 million to extend the Medicare rebates for breast MRI scans and PET scans for Australians with breast
cancer. The new rebates come into effect on 1 November. The Medicare rebate for breast MRI scans will be expanded to allow people requiring a breast MRI as part of their diagnostic scans or pre-surgery planning to claim a rebate. The rebate for PET scans will also be extended so that people with metastatic, or suspected metastatic, breast cancer can claim a rebate if a PET scan is recommended to help determine the stage of the cancer.
A new drug that is used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer is now available in Australia. Nerlynx (neratinib) is an oral medication that has been shown in international clinical trials to have good results in both early and
metastatic breast cancer. While not yet listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the Australian Government scheme that subsidises medicines, the drug company that distributes Nerlynx (Specialised Therapeutics Australia) is making it available free of charge to eligible people through a compassionate access program.
Early breast cancer
The current standard treatment for HER2-positive early breast cancer includes 12 months of Herceptin (trastuzumab). Nerlynx is now being offered as an additional treatment after Herceptin is completed for people with HER2-positive breast cancer that is also hormone receptor positive. It is given with an aromatase inhibitor (e.g. letrozole or anastrozole) and must be started within 12 months of finishing Herceptin. The ExteNET clinical trial found that adding 12 months of Nerlynx after Herceptin treatment can further reduce the five-year risk of breast cancer coming back (recurring) by up to 42 per cent for people with HER2-positive, hormone receptor
positive early breast cancer.
The Australian authority that recommends new drugs for the PBS is currently considering Nerlynx for treatment of early breast cancer and we should know the outcome by the end of the year. BCNA has provided a submission in support of including Nerlynx on the PBS. In the meantime, Nerlynx is available to eligible people free of charge through a compassionate access program. If you are currently being treated with Herceptin, or have finished Herceptin within the last 12 months, and are interested in discussing whether Nerlynx might be a good option for you, you should speak to your medical oncologist.
Metastatic breast cancer
The NALA clinical trial investigated the use of Nerlynx in treating people with metastatic breast cancer who had already received two or more HER2 treatment regimes – generally Herceptin, Perjeta (pertuzumab) and/or Kadcyla (TDM-1) (or a combination of these). It compared Nerlynx plus the oral chemotherapy drug capecitabine with lapatinib (Tykerb) plus capecitabine and found that the Nerlynx/capecitabine combination significantly improved progression-free survival.
A compassionate access scheme has been opened in Australia which will allow people with HER2-positive metastatic disease who have had two or more HER2 treatment regimes to access Nerlynx free of charge. Please talk to your medical oncologist if you think this might be of interest to you.
Like all drugs, Nerlynx has side effects. The most significant is diarrhoea, particularly in the first two months of starting treatment. If you decide to take Nerlynx, it will be recommended that you take an anti-diarrhoeal medication such as Imodium (loperamide). Generally the diarrhoea stops after about two months. If you stop treatment with Nerlynx, the diarrhoea stops.
Keep an eye on the BCNA website and our Network News email newsletters for information on the PBS application for Nerlynx. For information on whether Nerlynx might be an appropriate treatment for you, talk to your medical oncologist.
Melbourne’s Catani Gardens will turn pink once again on Sunday 1 December as thousands of women take to the streets of St Kilda to raise money for BCNA as part of the annual Carman’s Women’s Fun Run. We’re always
blown away by the number of people who sign up to walk, run and just have fun. And it’s not just Melburnians who take part – we know plenty of BCNA members who use it as an opportunity to plan a girls’ weekend in Melbourne. While we’re grateful to everyone who hits the pavement, if you want to make an even bigger impact, make sure you sign up to fundraise for BCNA in addition to registering to take part in the fun run. To register or find out more about the event, click here to visit the Carman’s Women’s Fun Run website.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and BCNA will be using this month to encourage members to live their best life possible.
‘It’s not about being the best marathon runner or suddenly learning to skydive – unless that’s what you want to do. Sometimes it’s the little things that can help you adapt and cope with a breast cancer diagnosis,’ BCNA
CEO Kirsten Pilatti said.
‘It’s putting one foot in front of the other and doing one thing more than you did the day before.’
BCNA is encouraging members to adapt to their ‘new normal’ under the theme ‘Cancer Says I Can’t, I Say I Can’.
BCNA will offer a month-long calendar full of useful information to help engage in mind, body and soul activities across its social media channels.
‘There will be a specific focus on ways to help you look after your body and mind as well as feed your soul which we hope will be both practical and empowering,’ Kirsten said.
We are asking members to share their own ‘ICAN’ moments on social media to embrace their own ‘new normal’ and help others cope with their own breast cancer diagnosis.
We will also be focusing on allied health. Research tells us that things like increasing exercise and maintaining a healthy weight after breast cancer may reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence. These type of services are an
outpatient activity, and often attract significant out-of pocket expenses.
Not all women diagnosed with breast cancer are advised that a GP Chronic Disease Management Plan can assist them to access allied health services through Medicare. During October, BCNA will highlight the urgent need for an extension of the Medicare rebate for cancer patients under the Chronic Disease Management Plan from five to 10 sessions per year.
We will also be acknowledging Metastatic Awareness Day on 13 October, including live streaming the BCNA Together Towards Tomorrow Metastatic Breast Cancer program from the Gold Coast. Register to view the livestream by clicking here. BCNA will be supporting Cancer Australia’s launch of its Best Practice Guidelines from the conference on the day.
On 20 October we will celebrate Male Breast Cancer Awareness Day by sharing some advice for men diagnosed with breast cancer from a male perspective.