A FIRST of its kind cancer treatment has been approved for the NHS.

Pioneering CAR-T therapy will be offered to hundreds with blood cancer to help their own immune systems to fight off the disease.

The treatment turbocharges white blood cells and trains them to kill tumours.

Trials suggest patients live longer than if they are just given chemotherapy.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has now approved it for patients with two types of lymphoma — up to 450 per year.

Helen Knight, director of medicines evaluation at NICE, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to recommend this pioneering treatment for people. 

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“The evidence from its use in clinical trials shows it can offer an effective treatment, helping people live longer and with a better quality of life.”

CAR-T has been available to some children and adults enrolled in trials through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).

It works by taking a blood sample from a patient, which is taken to a lab and “trained” to fight cancer before being injected back into them.

Some 318 people received treatment through the CDF from December 2018 to October 2021.

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The typical survival of people having CAR-T was 28.5 months, with 45 per cent of patients surviving three years.

This compares with an average survival of just over six months on chemotherapy.

Around 5,500 people are diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma — one of the cancers CAR-T is approved for — each year in England.

What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The most common symptom of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, usually in the neck, armpit or groin.

Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are pea-sized lumps of tissue found throughout the body.

They contain white blood cells that help to fight against infection.

The swelling is caused by a certain type of white blood cell, known as lymphocytes, collecting in the lymph node.

But it's highly unlikely you have non-Hodgkin lymphoma if you have swollen lymph nodes, as these glands often swell as a response to infection.

Source: NHS

It is more common among those aged 65 and over.

The disease is aggressive and progresses quickly. It is the most common type of high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The NICE-approved form of CAR-T is branded as Yescarta, made by pharmaceutical firm Gilead.

Dr Véronique Walsh, of Gilead Sciences UK & Ireland said: “We are pleased to announce CAR-T will be routinely available in the third line setting for all eligible patients on the NHS. 

“Gilead has been working in close partnership with NHS England and NICE over many months and we are delighted that an agreement has now been reached.”

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Blood Cancer UK chief executive Helen Rowntree welcomed the move and said it would give people clarity about their treatment.

However, she said the charity is "still waiting to see whether this drug will be accepted for use as a second line therapy for people with blood cancer".

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