A radioactive drug, similar to that which killed Russian former spy Alexander Litvinenko has been approved as a treatment for prostate cancer on the NHS.
Radium-223 is a powerful drug based on a mildly radioactive form of the metal radium. Given as an infusion into the bloodstream, it is taken up by bones and can specifically target tumours through alpha particles.
Infusions are typically given once a month, for up to six months.
The drugs emit the same type of radiation as polonium-210 which was used to assassinate former Russia spy Mr Litvinenko due to its ability to destroy tissues and organs. However, despite this, when used in a controlled manner, the same capabilities can be used to specifically target cancers.
The health regulation authority NICE has announced prostate cancer patients will now be able to access the drug on a routine basis. It has previously only been recommended for patients who had received initial treatment alongside an additional medicine, docetaxel.
13 ways to help prevent cancer
Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year
Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it
A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research – with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women
Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes
Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year
Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own
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Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus – which can cause cervical cancer in women – and hepatitis – can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups
Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol – such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer – that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year
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Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping – less than one hour’s exercise a day – is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers
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Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers
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Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research
Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers – but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year
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Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers – but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer
Professor Carole Longson, director of the centre for health technology evaluation at NICE, said: “I am pleased we have been able to broaden our recommendations for radium-223. Patients with prostate cancer will surely benefit from this drug being available for routine NHS use. I hope we’ll see more drugs like this move into routine NHS use after companies have been able to better demonstrate cost-effectiveness.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men in the UK. Around 1 in 8 men will be affected by the condition during their lifeline.
An estimated 47,000 men are diagnosed with the cancer every year.
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