Life Wellbeing Australian researchers make melanoma treatment breakthrough

Australian researchers make melanoma treatment breakthrough

Australians have given fresh hope to Australians diagnosed with the lethal skin cancer. Photo: Getty
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Australian researchers have discovered a new weapon in the fight against melanoma.

It is hoped the discovery will help prevent the spread of one of the country’s deadliest cancers in its early stages.

Less than a decade ago, advanced melanoma was an almost certain death sentence, but thanks to immunotherapy drug breakthroughs more than half of patients now enjoy a considerably healthier prognosis.

However, there are no immunotherapy drugs currently approved for use in early-stage melanoma patients.

But promising results from a clinical trial – which included researchers and patients from Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) – is set to change that.

The research demonstrated giving high-risk stage-two melanoma patients the same immunotherapy drugs approved for use in those with advanced melanoma reduced the risk of death or recurrence by 35 per cent.

“We are using drug therapy already proven to be life-saving for advanced melanoma patients, to stop the disease in its tracks in earlier stage patients,” study author and co-Medical Director of MIA Professor Georgina Long said.

A year after surgery to remove their tumour, fewer than 10 per cent of patients who were given the immunotherapy drug – called pembrolizumab – had their melanoma progress, compared to about 17 per cent in the placebo group.

The research was this weekend presented at the world’s biggest medical oncology conference, and it is hoped pembrolizumab will soon be approved for use for early-stage patients in Australia.

That could result in a paradigm shift in treatment of early-stage patients and save thousands of lives, fellow study author and MIA co-Medical Director Professor Richard Scolyer said.

Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world, with one person diagnosed every 30 minutes and 1300 Australians dying from the disease each year.

“By giving this immunotherapy treatment at an earlier stage, we are proactively preventing melanoma spread,” Professor Scolyer said.

“This … represents a significant step forward in our mission of reaching zero deaths from melanoma.”