Women with breast cancer call for life-extending drugs funding in New Zealand

Women with advanced breast cancer are marching on Parliament to demand access to life-extending drugs. 

Support group Metavivors, which advocates for better treatment and care for people with advanced breast cancer, says many people cannot afford medicines Ibrance and Kadcyla. 

Ibrance (chemical name palbociclib), for example, is used to treat advanced breast cancer. The Ibrance petition has more than 29,000 signatures and has been steadily gaining support, a statement by Metavivors says. 

Women in New Zealand are paying more than $5500 a month to fund the drug themselves in a desperate bid for more time with their families and in their communities. 

The petition calls on the Minister for Health David Clark and the Government's drug-buying agency Pharmac to work with the petition signatories to fund the medicine. 

The Kadcyla petition has more than1500 signatories. It is available in New Zealand and Medsafe registered but is not yet publicly funded in the country, although it has been funded in Australia since 2015.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition Chair Libby Burgess says women throughout New Zealand with advanced breast cancer are raising their voices and demanding to be heard.

"It's tragic that our vulnerable women have to march on Parliament to call for access to treatments that they would get as a matter of course in other developed countries," she says. 

"Recent research has shown that New Zealand women with this form of cancer receive fewer medicines that those in Australia, Canada and the UK, and that their lives are shortened on average to 16 months compared to two or three years overseas."

March organiser Wiki Mulholland spoke to The AM Show in August about her own experience with breast cancer. The Kiwi mother has pleaded with MPs and Pharmac to fund expensive drugs to prolong life for patients.  

Ms Mulholland's cancer spread across her body before she was able to have a mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had quickly spread to her spine, her sternum and the base of her skull, she told The AM Show. 

She started taking tamoxifen, which tackles hormone-based cancer by preventing the production of oestrogen and breast growth. But the cancer kept spreading and she soon discovered cancer in her lungs as well, which propelled her to stage four cancer patient status. 

Ms Mulholland told The AM Show she requires Ibrnace. But with the treatment being unfunded in New Zealand, Ms Mulholland had to undergo chemotherapy which gave her and her husband some time to fundraise for the $6000 a month drug. 

The drugs can add two years onto breast cancer sufferers' lives, she says, telling Newshub: "For me, getting an extra two years of life would mean I'm able to see my children finish school and be able to spend more time with my husband and wider whanau."

Petition organiser Terre Nicholson says Ibrance and Kadcyla (also known as T-DM1 or trastuzumab emtansine) are hailed as game changers for women with advanced breast cancer and can extend lives by years.

"Two years may not sound like much. But it's literally a lifetime for us. We all have very important reasons to want extra time - time to spend with our family and other loved-ones. For mothers, it can mean helping children adapt and cope or that their toddlers will be old enough to remember them."

More than 100 women and supporters are expected to march on Parliament on Tuesday. For many of them it will take a lot of energy. 

The march is expected to start at around 1pm.