Miracle skin cancer pill doubles survival

A pill has been found to almost double the survival time of patients diagnosed with advanced skin cancer

A twice-daily pill could potentially double the length of time that patients with advanced skin cancer can live, according to a new study.

In a trial of 132 people diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that on average patients lived for almost 16 months when put on the drug, vermurafenib.

Comparatively, those with skin cancer that had already metastasised to other organs and underwent standard treatments tended to live between 6-10 months after diagnosis.

‘We knew this drug would make the melanomas shrink in a large proportion of patients and that it worked better than chemotherapy. We did not know that patients taking Zelboraf were living longer until now,’ says Dr Antoni Ribas, professor of haematology and oncology at the University of California.

Unfortunately, the drug is only effective in those who carry a mutation of the BRAF gene called V6000, present in around half of melanomas.

Researchers found that tumours eventually became resistantto the drug. Patients suffered side effects including photosensitivity, fatigue and alopecia. 25 per cent of patients also suffered secondary skin cancers, which have to be surgically removed.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has yet to examine the drug for clinical and cost effectiveness.

Skin cancer claims 2,000 lives a year in Britain and every year around 11,700 people are diagnosed with the disease.

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