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Ann Oncol. 1999 Apr;10(4):385-90.

Essential drugs for cancer therapy: a World Health Organization consultation.

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WHO Cancer Programme, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.


The WHO has previously produced recommendations on the essential drugs required for cancer therapy. Over the last five years several new anti cancer drugs have been aggressively marketed. Most of these are costly and produce only limited benefits. We have divided currently available anti-cancer drugs into three priority groups. Curable cancers and those cancers where the cost-benefit ratio clearly favours drug treatment can be managed appropriately with regimens based on only 17 drugs. All of these are available, at relatively low cost, as generic preparations. The wide availability of these drugs should be the first priority. The second group of drugs may have some advantages in certain clinical situations. Based on current evidence, drugs in the third group are judged as currently not essential for the effective delivery of cancer care. Adequate supportive care programmes with the widespread availability of effective drugs for pain control are of considerably greater importance. The adoption of these priorities will help to optimise the effectiveness and efficiency of chemotherapy and ensure equitable access to essential drugs especially in low resource environments. Clearly this paper represents the views of its contributors. The WHO welcomes feedback from all oncologists so that the advice it gives to governments in prioritising the procurement of anti cancer drugs can be as comprehensive as possible.

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