Dame Tessa Jowell opens up about cancer and calls for more innovative treatments

Updated: 

Cancer patients should be free to take the risk of undergoing different innovative treatments on the NHS, Dame Tessa Jowell has said.

The former cabinet minister, who has brain cancer, called for more opportunities for "adaptive trials" in which patients can undergo different treatments, and if one does not work they can immediately move on to the next.

The Labour peer said she was "absolutely 100%" focused on staying alive as she prepared to deliver a speech to the House of Lords on Thursday on making new cancer treatments available through the NHS.

Explaining adaptive trials in her first interview on cancer since being diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour known as glioblastoma last May, Dame Tessa told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Brain cancers happen very quickly, you have to show that there's been change quickly and if you don't do that then basically nothing changes."

She went on: "That (adaptive trials) is exactly the kind of risk that patients should be free to take, it should be a risk that they have the chance to take, and it's certainly what somebody like me wants.

"I actually see that the opportunity to take this risk is longer than the likelihood of my life surviving for a very long time."

Dame Tessa has been treated in London on the NHS but had advice from the US and consulted a doctor in Germany.

"I got to the point in the NHS in London where I couldn't be given any more treatment but it was very clear that if I went to Germany then I had a chance of taking out this immunotherapy - a new experiment," she said.

"And I was and I am prepared to try that."

In a revealing interview in which she occasionally stumbled over her words, which she said "the tumour bloody well does this to you", Dame Tessa revealed she had taken inspiration from the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

"I was deeply touched by Seamus Heaney's last words when he said 'do not be afraid'," she said.

"I am not afraid, I feel very clear about my sense of purpose and what I want to do and how do I know how long it's going to last? I'm certainly going to do everything I can to make it a very long time."

The interview with Nick Robinson, who himself underwent treatment for lung cancer, was pre-recorded.

But Dame Tessa was in the studio to hear it back and received a round of applause from other guests who were on the programme for its cancer special.

Baroness Jowell was one of the Labour Party's best known faces during Tony Blair's era and was hailed as the woman who brought the Olympics back to Britain as culture secretary.