A story from BBC Health caught my attention as it involved a oncological breakthrough regarding the treatment of cancerous tumors. As someone who is extremely prone to melanoma due to my pale complexion, this is fantastic news.
After over 2 years of trials, exciting news arrives in the area of immunotherapy. Two drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab have been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and will be paid for by the NHS to treat cancerous tumors.
Professor Carole Longson, from NICE, said: ‘These promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition.’
Advanced melanoma is also known as stage 4 melanoma, which is skin cancer, which usually develops from abnormal moles. Advanced melanoma means that the melanoma has spread from its original area to another part of the body. This is incurable but treatment can reduce the size of the melanoma or stop it growing.
However, due to this breakthrough in the area of immunotherapy, an exciting field in cancer treatment, sufferers of melanoma have been given hope.
In trials, 69% of patients’ cancer has shrunk as a result of the combination therapy, even on the most aggressive and deadly types. Furthermore, two years after being given both drugs more than half experienced their tumors shrinking and a fifth had no sign of cancer at all.
The drugs work by interrupting the chemical signals that are used by cancer cells to trick the immune system into thinking that they are healthy tissue. By interrupting these signals the immune system can recognize and fight the cancerous tissue easier. Nivolumab blocks the ‘off-switch’ , PD-1, whilst Ipilimumab blocks the switch CTLA-4 found on white blood cells.
The chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, Prof Peter Johnson, said: “These results give new hope to melanoma patients. But, it’s important to remember that more powerful treatment comes with an increased chance of severe side effects.”
Known side effects have included inflammation in the bowels and liver as the immune system can attack healthy tissue.
However, this breakthrough highlights the important work in the upcoming field of immunotherapy. Dr Paul Nathan, from the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex: “Immunotherapy is genuinely exciting, it is starting to have a profound effect on many cancers and I’m in no doubt there will be patients that have long-term durable control of their disease… it really is a game-changer.”
These breakthroughs are always good to see and it is reassuring to see researchers paving the way to the eradication of cancer.