New melanoma therapies vital

A Melanoma expert visiting Perth, Dr Mark Shackleton, says that there has almost been an epidemic of aggressive melanomas being diagnosed between the 1980s and now.

Dr Shackleton, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, was at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research to host this year’s Kirkbride Melanoma Centre Community Forum. He said that it was important to continue working to discover new therapies in order to increase the survival rate for patients.

“The problem with drug resistance in this disease is huge,” he said. “The cancer a patient gets at one point in time is not the same as the cancer which comes back in five years; it keeps changing.”

Dr Shackleton described the potential of new drugs such as PD-1, for which the results from global clinical trials are about to be announced.

“PD-1 has milder side effects than other treatments because it has less impact on the immune system and is more targeted towards the tumour,” he said.

Dr Shackleton said that a combination of PD-1 and another drug which has finished clinical trials, had very promising results. Very early data from these studies has shown that 80 percent of patients are still alive more than 2 years after treatment. An unprecedented event, never seen before in the field of melanoma treatment.

“As an oncologist I can look my patients in the eye and tell them that there are some really good treatments emerging, which should be on offer to patients by the end of 2014,” he said.

“Whilst the work I do as a clinician is vitally important in saving lives, it’s clear to me that basic research is the area of investment and focus where the real quantum leaps for the treatment of patients come from.”

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