A Midland primary care trust yesterday approved a policy that will enable women with early stage breast cancer to be given the cancer drug Herceptin.
Patients diagnosed with HER2 form of breast cancer since last August will be entitled to receive the "wonder drug" on the NHS, after health bosses in Coventry approved a new policy for its use across the Arden Cancer Network, which covers several other trusts.
It is thought women could be receiving the drug, also known as trastuzumab, from next month once the PCTs' budgets are approved for the 2006/07 financial year.
The treatment will be offered across the network, which covers Coventry, North Warwickshire, Red-ditch and Bromsgrove, Rugby, and South Warwickshire PCTs, and it is estimated will cost at least #1.8 million a year.
Board members of Coventry Teaching PCT unanimously approved the policy, which may be reviewed in October once the National Institute for Clinical Negligence issues its guidance on the drug's use.
Richard Hancox, director of Arden Cancer Network, said: "Currently this drug is not licensed for use in treating early stage cancer, but that is due to come through soon.
"But unlicensed drugs are used in numerous clinical trials, so patients need to understand the risks associated with taking Herceptin, which is why women with heart problems are not eligible for this treatment.
"There is no denying it is an expensive drug - it costs about #30,000 per patient - and so it is money taken away from other cancer priorities such as investing in oncology services.
"We've estimated we'll treat about 60 patients a year, but that doesn't mean we've set a financial ceiling on how many can be treated. As long as patients meet the criteria they will be treated."
Women with HER2 early stage breast cancer - which accounts for one-in-five new diagnosis - who have already had chemotherapy being treated for tumours larger than 1cm, will be eligible for the drug.
However, those with severe T4 tumours, inflammatory breast cancers or suspicious internal mammary nodes, and a history of heart disease or cardiac problems will not qualify for treatment.
Similarly, most patients who have been treated with anthracycline may not be given Herceptin either.
Last week ten-year-old Katie Morgan, from Coton in Shropshire, wrote to Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, asking him to help her mother Susan in her fight for the drug, after being told she must raise #47,000 for it as a private patient.