This information is about access to all types of cancer treatments. When we use the word ‘treatment’, this also includes drugs used to treat cancer.
Cancer treatments are usually developed over years of careful research. This helps to show:
- if and how the treatment works
- which cancers it can be used to treat
- what the side effects are
- how it compares to current treatments.
This research is used to work out whether a treatment is effective and safe enough to be made widely available. Every treatment has side effects, but the research can tell us whether the benefits of the treatment usually outweigh the risks. Drugs must show that the benefits outweigh the risks in order to get a license.
In the UK, the two organisations that license drugs are:
Most new cancer drugs are licensed by the European Medicines Agency. Until a new drug has a licence, it cannot be prescribed by the NHS.
A drug is licensed to be used in a particular way, for a specific group of patients. For example, a drug that is licensed to treat breast cancer should not be used to treat any other type of cancer. If new research shows that the drug is also helpful in treating another type of cancer, the drug’s developer has to apply for another licence.
Early Access to Medicines
Some drugs that have not yet been licensed may be available through the Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS). This aims to give people access to drugs that have shown positive results in a research trial, but may still be part of ongoing research or waiting to be licensed.
This means that researchers may not yet know how well a drug will work or what all the side effects might be.
If you think an EAMS drug might be suitable for you, your doctor must agree and apply to the scheme for you. You can see a list of drugs available through the scheme at gov.uk.