New skin cancer drug may help late diagnosis malignant melanoma patients

Posted: 22/09/2014


A new generation of cancer drugs to help patients with  advanced malignant melanoma (skin cancer) are now in development, including a drug called Dabrafenib (Tafinlar). It has been widely publicised that the drug, which targets cancer cells with the BRAF V600 mutation, can block the growth of the cancer and can potentially significantly improve the prognosis for some people with malignant melanoma.

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and one of the most common cancers in people aged 15–34.  It is estimated that around 12,800 people are diagnosed with melanoma in the UK every year. If the disease is diagnosed at the later stages – i.e. once it has spread – the available options for treatment have always been very limited and it can be fatal.

Within the final Guidance notes published recently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has confirmed that this new drug should be used for patients whose cancer has spread or could not be completely removed by surgery and who had tested positive for the mutation. NICE has also recommended that the drug should be made available on the NHS provided that it is sold to the NHS “at a discount”.

While this new drug will not provide a cure for the disease, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, Professor Peter Johnson, has stated that this new development “represents the progress made in our understanding of biology in advanced skin cancer and how this can be used to develop innovative treatments to treat the disease."

Naomi Holland, an associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team. welcomes this new development: “It is great news that, after such significant investment into research, new cancer drugs are available to extend the prognosis for patients with this awful disease.

“As with any other cancer, early detection and diagnosis are vital to ensure the best possible outcome. Unfortunately, many of the cases we deal with result from the negligent failure to perform a biopsy on skin abnormalities and/or to follow up.  By the time the cancer is diagnosed,  the melanoma has spread and ultimately the patient has died.  While these new drugs could help these patients, anyone with potentially suspicious lesions  should urgently seek urgent medical attention and those providing primary care must be proactive in investigating their concerns.”


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