A new decision by NHS Scotland has meant that people with a rare form of cancer have the chance to forego radiotherapy in favour of tablets.
This month it was announced that the first oral BRAF-targeted treatment for post-surgery stage III melanoma patients, the most aggressive type of skin-cancer, was to be made available following approval by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).
Around 180 people die every year from melanoma in Scotland, and the number of people diagnosed has soared in recent years, with around 1,380 new cases every year.1
Until this month, there were no reimbursed BRAF-targeted treatments that offered clear benefits for Scottish patients following surgery, and patients were forced to forego radiotherapy which, even then, was only used in specialised cases.
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The new treatment approved by SMC is a convenient oral therapy, Tafinlar, that can be taken at home, consisting of five tablets a day.
John Hughes, from Bishopbriggs, welcomed the news, and said it would make his life “completely different.”
The 61-year-old found a lump in his armpit in April 2018, which was later diagnosed as melanoma.
He received surgery to have the lump removed, and was told by his doctor that the chances of his melanoma returning if he took the BRAF-targeted therapy would be reduced by about 50%.
Doctors explained that they would need to seek hospital approval for him to receive the BRAF-targeted treatment as it was not yet available on NHS Scotland.
Mr Hughes began treatment last week.
He said: “I have a busy lifestyle, I always have.
“When I was first diagnosed it was quite scary, and I did have a wee wobble when I started to research the condition online.
“There have been bad days, but that’s natural.
“However, I try my best to keep active and to keep positive, I still play a lot of golf for example.
“The idea of taking pills instead of having to go into hospital is great, especially for people who might live far away from hospital.
“I’ll be able to take them on the bus, at home – it will completely change my life.”
Dabrafenib + trametinib will be routinely available for Scottish patients as of this month.
Around 500 people in Scotland with BRAF-mutated stage III melanoma are eligible for immediate treatment post-surgery and a further 50 patients are estimated to be eligible each year.
Dr Ashita Waterston, medical oncology consultant at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre said: “This treatment option will transform the standard of care for people with BRAF-positive stage III melanoma living in Scotland. By treating these patients with tablets it allows flexibility for patients, particularly those living a distance away.
“Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and until recently there were no reimbursed treatment options for these patients.
“For many years, patients simply had to hope their melanoma would not return, which can often be an incredibly anxious time since in over half of all melanoma patients, their cancer did return.”
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