For the first time in seven years, a prostate cancer therapy will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

From Monday, men with a high-risk form of the disease that no longer responds to traditional testosterone-lowering therapy – known medically as castration resistant prostate cancer, or nmCRPC – can access Nubeqa (darolutamide) with the support of a Federal Government subsidy.

The medicine can cost up to $44,000 per year, but will now be available for just $41.30, or $6.60 for concession card holders, each month.

Nubeqa is an androgen receptor inhibitor that works to starve cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow and divide.

Taken as tablets alongside traditional androgen deprivation therapy, it is the first medicine of its type to be included on the PBS for the treatment of nmCRPC.

According to Associate Professor David Pook, a Medical Oncologist at Melbourne’s Cabrini Hospital, access to Nubeqa on the PBS will come as great news to men no longer responding to hormone therapy.

“This medicine offers an earlier line of treatment, allowing doctors to treat prostate cancer that no longer responds to traditional testosterone-lowering treatment and is likely to spread,” Dr Pook said.

“We no longer need to wait until we can see cancer spots on CT scans and bone scans before we initiate treatment,” he said.

“We now have the option to act earlier with the goal of delaying the spread of prostate cancer.”

It is estimated that more than 200,000 Australian men are currently living with prostate cancer.

Each year, close to 17,000 men are diagnosed with the condition and approximately 3,200 lose their lives to the disease.

The announcement comes as concerns grow among medical experts and advocates about the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on prostate cancer screening and diagnosis, as well as Prostate Specific Androgen (PSA) blood tests and scans to gauge cancer activity in those already diagnosed.

“Protecting against COVID-19 must not be at the expense of timely diagnosis or appropriate monitoring of cancer activity,” Dr Pook said.

“Typically, men with nmCRPC are active and don’t display cancer symptoms, so we rely on regular PSA blood tests as well as medical imaging to monitor cancer. When PSA levels double within 10 months, the prospect of cancer becoming visible in lymph nodes and bones is more likely,” he said.

One-in-three men with nmCRPC will develop overt metastatic disease – where the cancer spreads to other parts of the body and is detected on CT or bone scans – within two years.