The NHS has been funding treatment ‘swaps’ for patients with cancer during the pandemic. These swaps have enabled thousands of patients to maintain cancer treatment, while lowering their risk of contracting Covid-19.

It was announced yesterday that this method of treatment will be extended into the summer months, with the potential to continue until the end of March 2022.

Roughly 8,000 patients have already benefited from the treatment since April, enabling effective and safer treatment to carry on in spite of the pandemic.

The news comes as figures reveal that 250,000 people in the UK have started cancer treatment since March 2020, when Covid-19 first hit.

Which treatments are available for home use?

More than 30 different drugs are available to treat patients at home, lowering the number of hospital visits patients have to make and reducing the impact on their immune system.

Clinicians can choose from various hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer.

For ovarian cancer, some patients can receive trametinib as a tablet alternative to chemotherapy and so reduce the impact on their immune systems.

Other treatment options include:

• Venetoclax in acute myeloid leukaemia as an oral alternative to more toxic standard chemotherapy
• Nivolumab or pembrolizumab for patients with bowel cancer whose cancers have a specific genetic fingerprint
• Ixazomib in myeloma as an oral alternative to treatment which would require more hospital visits and injections
• Atezolizumab as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy

How else has the NHS safe-guarded cancer patients?

The Covid-friendly treatment swaps are just one way the NHS has safe-guarded their patients from coronavirus. They have also implemented chemotherapy door-step deliveries and fast tracked stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which requires five doses rather than up to 30, cutting the number of hospital visits that potentially vulnerable cancer patients need to make.

New ways of testing patients for cancer have also been employed, for example, NHS England are piloting mini cameras that patients can swallow to test for bowel cancer.

A recent analysis has shown that the implementation of new at-home therapies has boosted the number of people having cancer treatments during the pandemic. If these treatments hadn’t been available, many patients would have experienced delays or not been treated at all.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer said: “Cancer has been a priority throughout the pandemic, which is why NHS staff have fast-tracked patient access to more convenient and kinder treatments to provide as many people as possible with safe and effective care, even as the NHS cared for more than 380 000 people seriously ill with Covid.

“Extending the use of ‘Covid friendly’ treatments for cancer is another example of how we are embracing the full range of treatment options and bringing the NHS to patients at home in many cases.

“If you have a worrying symptom, please do come forward and get checked – the NHS is ready and here to treat you. Cancer is easier to treat when it’s caught at an earlier stage and coming forward for a check could save your life.”

Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This flexible approach to access cancer drugs is to be welcomed, particularly during a global pandemic. It ensures that women with a rare type of ovarian cancer have access to the best possible treatments for them, bringing hope to a lot of families at a very difficult time.”