Sunday, 9 November 2008

You live or die - who chooses?

This woman got the life-saving cancer drug she needed. Thousands more have been sentenced to an early death by bureaucrats. Russell Miller investigates.
Photographs by Larry Dunstan

At the age of 29, Toral Shah was warned she faced losing both her breasts to avoid death from an aggressive cancer. The disease had affected both her mother and her aunt. Devastated by the news, she asked for time to come to terms with the prospect of surgery that could disfigure her for life — and chemo or radiotherapy that could prevent her from ever having children. In a matter of weeks, the tumour had grown to the size of a mango. It was on the verge of invading other tissues — and the prognosis was bad. The surgeons removed a substantial amount of tissue with the tumour and she was given a synthetic implant. In common with thousands of women, Toral faced a stark choice: have both breasts removed, and endure the harrowing ordeal of chemo or radiotherapy, or somehow find an alternative. Toral comes from a medical background and she herself came across the alternative — Tamoxifen, a drug that had been mired in controversy, considered an expensive and unproven cure, offered to only a handful of NHS patients. On the advice of Macmillan Cancer Support, she asked to be given the drug. She was told by her doctors that her tumour was a localised variety. Such tumours grow in the presence of the female hormone oestrogen, which can be blocked by Tamoxifen. She was determined to get it.

Complete article here