The NHS has approved two new skin cancer drugs which could provide significant breakthroughs in the treatment of advanced skin cancer. It is hoped that the drugs will be able to improve the life expectancy of those with advanced melanoma, which is currently just two years. With this breakthrough it is hoped that many patients can receive a more positive prognosis as well as advance skin cancer therapy.
Immunotherapy – Significant development for cancer treatment
The approved drugs, nivolumab with ipilimumab, when used together were shown to reduce melanomas significantly in 69% of patients during clinical trials. They are both examples of immunotherapy treatments which have already had an impact in the field of cancer treatment, by stopping the cancer in its tracks to allow the body’s immune system to attack the cancer.
Approval for the drugs come from The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who have been criticised in the past for their slow approval of drugs for NHS use. NICE have worked to offer one of their quickest approvals through discount to the NHS for the use of these two new drugs.
Whilst the current life expectancy for those diagnosed with advanced melanoma is typically less than two years, some participants in the trial have extended their lives to 10 years. It is unclear at the moment whether or not the cancer will return in these individuals, given that the initial drugs were only licensed in 2011.
Speaking about the development, Dr James Larkin, who was one of the specialists working on the trial, said: “This is the first combination of immunotherapy drugs being approved by NICE. It is a milestone. It is fantastic to have this treatment option for patients.”
The immunotherapy treatment needs to be administered by melanoma specialists, who are available all over the UK. It provides greater flexibility for patients, who previously had to travel to the Royal Marsden for treatment. NICE’s Professor Carole Longson spoke about the significance of the approval, saying: “These promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition.”
Patients in the UK will be the first in Europe to access the drugs, with licencing only taking place recently in the rest of Europe. It’s important to note however that the treatment will not be suitable for all melanoma sufferers, as the effect on the immune system could leave patients with other side effects, As a result, it will be important to consider patients on a case by case basis. The development does however provide hope for those at advanced stages of melanoma where outcomes were previously much bleaker.
Skin Cancer in the UK
With summer now upon us, skin cancer becomes an increasingly talked about topic – with the warmer months being the most crucial time to protect our skin from sun damage which can lead to skin cancer. Cancer Research UK states that there were 14,509 cases of malignant melanoma in 2013, and of these – 86% could have been prevented. Many of us take sun protection lightly, but with statistics of preventable skin cancers as high as this, perhaps it’s time to reassess your habits.
Protecting your skin from UV rays is important all year round, but as the weather gets warmer, our skin becomes more exposed and without the proper protection, the consequences of ignoring sun care could be devastating. As well as the risk of skin cancer, sun damage causes premature ageing as well as discolouration and pigmentation, which can all be avoided through using the right SPF products. Wear sun protection as part of your daily routine, try to avoid being exposed during peak sun hours of 11am-3pm and be sure to cover up with loose, airy clothing.
It’s also important that you check your skin regularly for any changes or abnormalities which have appeared. This useful article from NHS Choices has plenty of information about skin cancer types and what symptoms to keep an eye on. If you are at all concerned and suspect skin cancer, book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Stay safe in the sun this summer and do your bit to prevent unnecessary sun damage.