Skin cancer sufferers in drugs trial showing five-fold survival increase, say researchers

Twenty-four Irish people being treated at hospitals in Dublin, Galway and Cork are among those taking part in trial

The incidence for malignant melanoma for women in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe – fourth out of 26 countries – while the rate for men is well above average. Photograph: Myung Jung Kim/PA

The incidence for malignant melanoma for women in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe – fourth out of 26 countries – while the rate for men is well above average. Photograph: Myung Jung Kim/PA

Tue, Jun 3, 2014, 01:00

Two dozen skin cancer sufferers in Ireland are taking part in a trial of drugs which the researchers claim have shown a near-fivefold increase in survival rates.

Researchers pioneering methods of harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer have uncovered further dramatic results in a worldwide clinical trial involving 7,000 people.

The study found cancer survival rates of 94 per cent and 88 per cent after one and two years using a combination of treatments of two drugs – up from existing rates of 40 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

Twenty-four Irish people being treated at hospitals in two sites in Dublin, and in Galway and Cork, are among those taking part in the latest phase of the trial starting late last year.

Derek Power, consultant medical oncologist at Cork University Hospital and chairman of the Irish Melanoma Forum, said the results of the early stages of the trials show a cure for skin cancer could be within reach. “This really is an amazing breakthrough, albeit it’s early data. Unequivocally it absolutely marks a sea change. There is the tantalising possibility of a cure with immunotherapy. It’s not for everyone, that’s an important thing to say, but it does bring about the potential, and that’s an amazing thing to say.”

In Ireland, almost 630 people a year are diagnosed with melanoma and it leads to 110 deaths a year.

Aggressive

Malignant melanoma – when the skin cancer spreads to other parts of the body – is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease, with 75 per cent of people dying within just one year of diagnosis.

The incidence for women in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe – fourth out of 26 countries – while the rate for men is well above average.

The findings of the study were released at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

It is hoped that the combination drug treatment could be available to skin cancer patients in Ireland as soon as next year. The cost per patient could start at €80,000. – (PA)