The Bureau of National Health Insurance yesterday extended coverage for the chemotherapy drug Bevacizumab — better known by its trade name Avastin — to include treatment for brain tumor patients.
The drug was previously only covered by the insurance program when used to treat colon cancer patients.
The bureau estimated that 60 to 150 patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a particularly aggressive type of malignant brain tumor, will benefit from the chemotherapy drug.
The bureau’s new program is expected to help patients save NT$120,000 (US$4,110) in monthly medical bills for the drug, which costs NT$9,211 per bottle.
However, including the new application on the list of drugs covered by the insurance program will also add NT$30 million to NT$70 million annually to the bureau’s expenses over the next five years.
Avastin is mainly used in the treatment of colon cancer and can prevent the growth of new blood vessels, which can help stop the growth of tumors, said Shih Ju-liang (施如亮), an official at the bureau.
Malignant brain tumors account for 0.75 percent of diagnosed malignant tumor cases, and GBM patients comprise 43 percent of all malignant brain tumor cases in Taiwan, Shih said.
The disease usually occurs in individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 and can affect a patient’s motor skills, sense of touch, language abilities and vision, and even cause paralysis, Shih said.
Brain tumors are generally treated using surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and if the prognosis of the disease worsens or a relapse occurs, there are no other effective medications or therapies available, Shih said.
That is where Avastin comes into play, because it is used on GBM patients who have had a relapse.
About 400 new brain tumor cases are diagnosed every year in the country, 40 percent of which are benign and 60 percent are malignant, Taiwan Neurosurgical Society chairman Lin Shinn-zong (林欣榮) said.
Malignant brain tumors tend to spread very fast, are difficult to remove and can grow up to 16 times their original size within a month, Lin said.
Moreover, most diagnoses are only made in the late stages of the tumor’s progression, leading to a life expectancy of only 12 to 18 months for most patients.
The five-year survival rate is only 3.4 percent, Lin added.
Chemotherapy, such as temozolomide, issued in six treatments can only extend a patient’s life by a few months, Lin said.