Sunday October 14, 2012
Surviving liver cancer
The NexPAP Patient Assistance Programme commemorates its third anniversary.
LIVER cancer survivors who have benefited from Bayer’s NexPAP Patient Assistance Programme gathered recently for celebrations in conjunction with the programme’s third anniversary.
The programme is a joint initiative by Bayer HealthCare and the Malaysian Liver Foundation, offering sorafenib to eligible patients diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC), after they have borne two months’ treatment with the drug.
Sorafenib is the only oral anti-cancer drug approved in Malaysia, which has been demonstrated to significantly improve overall survival in patients with HCC.
Speaking at the private gathering, Malaysian Liver Foundation chief executive officer and medical director Prof Datuk Dr Nor Shahidah Khairullah said, “As we mark the third year of NexPAP, we are delighted to celebrate how the programme’s beneficiaries have been able to take life further with sorafenib treatment. Liver cancer is a notoriously hard-to-treat disease, as patients often present in the late stages and they succumb to the disease fairly quickly.
“Yet, with sorafenib treatment, we see liver cancer patients – including one from the programme’s very first year – enjoy a better quality of life, and importantly, enjoy precious time with their loved ones.”
“With high mortality rates and a less than 10% five-year survival rate, time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. For the past three years, we have witnessed the difference the NexPAP programme has made in the lives of patients and their families. We look forward to seeing the NexPAP programme benefit even more liver cancer patients in Malaysia,” said the foundation’s president Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican.
Liver cancer currently claims the lives of approximately 695,000 of the world’s population each year. It disproportionately affects men, with more than two times as many men developing the disease as women. In Malaysia, liver cancer is the fifth-most common cancer affecting men, with an incidence of 5.7 per 100,000 of the population.
“If liver cancer is detected in the early stage, surgical resection offers the best chance of cure. However, only about 15% of patients are operable, as liver cancer is often detected at the later stages. It is rare for someone with inoperable liver cancer to live beyond a year after diagnosis,” explained consultant oncologist Dr John Low.
“Liver cancer does not respond well to conventional chemotherapy.
“A targeted therapy such as sorafenib, works differently from standard chemotherapy by honing in on the cancer cells and starving the tumour, while leaving normal cells relatively unharmed.
“It is very encouraging to see such positive outcomes among the NexPAP beneficiaries, and I commend Bayer and the Malaysian Liver Foundation for reaching out to liver cancer patients in this manner,” he added.
Sorafenib is also the only oral targeted therapy approved by the Health Ministry for the treatment of HCC to improve overall patient survival.
It is one of the newer classes of cancer therapies that work by targeting and blocking signalling proteins in cells to stop the proliferation of tumour cells, as well as cutting off the blood supply to tumours.
Since its launch in 2009, more than 120 patients have benefited from the NexPAP programme.
Kamarudin Samsudin, 71, is the programme’s earliest beneficiary. He has a history of hepatitis B, type II diabetes, benign prostate hyperplasia and gouty arthritis, and was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009.
Upon his doctor’s recommendation, he was prescribed with sorafenib.
“We know that many liver cancer patients do not live longer than a year. It has now been three years since I started this journey as a liver cancer survivor.
“Thanks to the NexPAP programme, I am grateful for this miracle of being alive today, and to be able to live a relatively healthy and normal life with my wife and family,” he said.
Kamarudin, who is married with four children and five grandchildren, has also seen an improvement in his overall health.
Not long after being on the treatment, he was able to progressively return to his daily routine, including his favourite pastime of gardening.
After being on sorafenib for 31 months, he underwent a partial liver resection in January, which, according to his doctor, would give him a 50% chance of recovery.
Since then, his last two scans have shown no sign of malignancy.
Another NexPAP beneficiary is David Lee, 52, who had lived an active and healthy life for over 30 years, despite having a history of hepatitis B.
He was shocked when he was diagnosed with liver cancer in March 2008, when he underwent a regular blood test.
He had a liver transplant, which enabled him to recover and return to work and a normal lifestyle within three months. However, by April 2011, the cancer had spread to Lee’s right lung.
Despite an operation to remove two nodules from the lung, the cancer had progressed to the lymph nodes in the middle area of the right lung by January, the bone by May, and the brain by July. The oncologist classified him as a Stage 4/end stage cancer patient.
Lee remains strong and positive despite the challenging journey he has gone through.
“I have been on sorafenib for 14 months, and have just renewed my NexPAP for a second year. It is my desire to be able to enjoy at least three more years with my family and see my children grow up,” he said.
“My very supportive family and friends, and my faith in God, have helped me go through those tough times.
“I am appreciative to the Asian Centre for Liver Diseases and Transplantation in Gleneagles, Singapore, Dr Low from Pantai Hospital, who is my oncologist, and for Bayer’s NexPAP assistance programme. They have helped me stay on treatment with sorafenib.”
According to Bayer HealthCare Malaysia medical director Dr Sharon Chong, “We have a long and ongoing commitment to contribute to medical progress, and to improve people’s quality of life.
“Each of the NexPAP beneficiaries have their own heartwarming story to tell, and their progress has been very encouraging.
“We will continue to work with the Malaysian Liver Foundation on NexPAP to see more liver cancer patients benefit from effective treatment to enjoy precious time with their loved ones.”
Patients can apply to the Malaysian Liver Foundation for the NexPAP Patient Assistance Programme with their prescribing doctor’s recommendation.
For more information, please contact the foundation at 03-7842 6101.