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WHO adds two new cancer drugs to essential medicines

The World Health Organization (WHO) has added two new cancer medicines to the list of essential medicines that hospitals treating the disease should have to reduce cancer deaths.

According to WHO, the new drugs; pegylated liposomal doxorubicin for Kaposi sarcoma and pegfilgrastim have been included in the list of essential drugs to stimulate the production of white blood cells and reduce the toxic effect of some cancer medicines on the bone marrow.

“Two new cancer treatments have been added: pegylated liposomal doxorubicin for Kaposi sarcoma and pegfilgrastim to stimulate the production of white blood cells and reduce the toxic effect of some cancer medicines on the bone marrow,” WHO said in a report titled, “The selection and use of essential Medicines 2023” published last week.

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a cancer that manifests as tumours on the skin or on mucosal surfaces such as inside the mouth. But these cancerous growths can also develop in other parts of the body, such as in the lungs, stomach or intestines.

KS contributed 3,844 (11.3 per cent) of the 34,008 new cancer cases in Uganda in 2020, according to statistics from the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Dr Henry Ddungu, a specialist at Uganda Cancer Institute, while commenting on the WHO’s recommendation, told the Monitor yesterday that the new drug for KS eases patient management by reducing side effects experienced during cancer treatment.

“Doxorubicin is a medicine that we use for various forms of cancer treatment. But there is a form, pegylated liposomal doxorubicin that is designed to be a little longer acting. So instead of giving someone many doses, you give them one, making them [the patients] experience fewer side effects,” Dr Ddungu said.

Some of the common side effects of Doxorubicin medicine include cough, fever or chill, darkening or redness of the skin, fast or irregular heartbeat, joint pain and lower back or side pain.

Dr Ddungu also said because of the unavoidable side effects of other drugs that may be used to treat a cancer patient, the new medicine called Pegfilgrastim is an excellent boost for care and the quality of life of patients.

“When people are undergoing cancer treatment, the medicine they use for cancer treatment takes away their immunity by destroying all the cells, including the good ones. So people can be given a long-acting form of that growth factor called pegfilgrastim. The short-acting one is called filgrastim,” he added.

Dr Nixon Niyonzima, the head of research and training at the Cancer Institute says they have already started using the medicines recommended by the WHO.

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