Essential medicines for breast cancer in low and middle income countries

BMC Cancer. 2015 Aug 18:15:591. doi: 10.1186/s12885-015-1583-4.


Background: Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women worldwide. In low and middle-income countries (LMICs), appropriate selection of medicines on national essential medicines lists (NEMLs) is a first step towards adequate access to treatment. We studied selection of systemic treatments for breast cancer on NEMLs and assessed its alignment with treatment guidelines for different types of early and advanced breast cancer. Furthermore, influence of country characteristics on the selection was investigated.

Method: NEMLs from 75 LMICs were studied for inclusion of all components of therapy in each stage of breast cancer according to international consensus guidelines. The results were then grouped by income level, WHO region and the NEMLs' release date. Non parametric tests were used for statistical analysis.

Results: Unlike HER2-targeted therapies (<10%), aromatase inhibitors (12%) and taxanes (28%); tamoxifen and first generation chemotherapeutic regimens (e.g., anthracycline-based regimens) were frequently found in the NEMLs (71-78%). Consequently, all components of treatment for "Luminal A" early breast cancer and non HER2 overexpressed advanced breast cancer were found on the NEMLs of over 70% of countries. However, 40% of the low income countries did not have all the components of therapy for any type of early breast cancer in their NEMLs, and adequate treatment of HER2 overexpressed breast cancer was hardly possible with the current selections. Recent NEMLs were more aligned with the guidelines (p < 0.05). Eastern Mediterranean and African regions less frequently incorporated all components of breast cancer treatment in their NEMLs.

Conclusion: Alignment of selection with guidelines' recommendations was inconsistent for different types of early and advanced breast cancer in NEMLs. Regular updates and more attention to clinical guidelines is therefore recommended.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Decision Making
  • Developing Countries
  • Drugs, Essential / economics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Poverty
  • Tamoxifen / economics
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*


  • Drugs, Essential
  • Tamoxifen