The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has today published guidance on the use of sunitinib for gastro-intestinal stromal tumours (GISTs). The guidance recommends sunitinib as a possible treatment for people with unresectable (non-operable) or metastatic (where the cancer has spread) GIST if they have already tried imatinib treatment but it has stopped working, or was not suitable. Sunitinib is recommended on the basis that the cost of the drug for the first treatment cycle is covered by the manufacturer.
GISTs are found in the digestive system, most commonly in the stomach. Many of these tumours are benign and cause few symptoms. If they become malignant (cancerous) and are confined to one area of the stomach or bowel, they can often be removed surgically. Where this is not possible, current NICE guidance recommends that imatinib should be offered to patients as a first line treatment option; however this is not suitable for all patients with some not able to tolerate the drug whilst others will develop a reduced response to it at over time.
Sunitinib works by binding to cancer cells and slowing down the growth of tumours.
Professor Peter Littlejohns, NICE Clinical and Public Health Director said: “Gastro-intestinal stromal tumours are difficult to diagnose but it has been estimated that there are around 240 new cases of unresectable and/or metastatic GISTs
per year in England and Wales. Today’s guidance provides these patients with a further treatment option and represents a positive move by the manufacturer, who, by reducing the cost the NHS will have to pay for this treatment, will enable as many eligible patients as possible to access it.”