Breakthrough respiratory cancer treatment approved

For the first time in almost 15 years, a “breakthrough” mesothelioma treatment has been approved, benefitting hundreds of NHS patients with aggressive forms of respiratory cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) yesterday approved the use of a life-extending treatment that combines the drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab, which will improve the health outcomes of approximately 1,000 patients every single year.

This combination is the first ever immunotherapy for untreated mesothelioma, with evidence to suggest it is a more effective alternative to chemotherapy. Clinical trials showed that 8% more people survived with mesothelioma after three years, whilst 13% more people saw their cancer stop progressing over the same time period.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the cells surrounding the lungs, affecting the respiratory system.  The majority of cases are linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, with most symptoms usually appearing several decades after the initial exposure.

Asbestos was banned back in 1999 but due to the delayed onset, around 2,700 people are diagnosed with this cancer in the UK each year – the highest prevalence anywhere in the world.

Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer for the NHS in England, said: “The NHS is delighted that this new drug combination will now be available for patients with this aggressive type of cancer, giving them more precious time with their families and friends.

“We know that unfortunately many people are likely to develop mesothelioma as the result of previous exposure to asbestos, but up to now we have had limited options for their treatment. This makes these new immunotherapy drugs even more vital and reinforces our commitment to using the latest treatments to improve the life chances of our patients.”

Although mesothelioma was once a disease of men in industry, NICE also noted in its recommendations that the cancer is being seen in women and younger people now too.

The disease is treatable but ultimately incurable, whilst malignant pleural mesothelioma progresses extremely quickly and has a poor prognosis rate, with only 8-10% of patients surviving for three years.

Symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing

More information about the new treatment is available here.

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