A recent international study has shown that a new drug for aggressive, advanced skin cancer can double survival rates.
Vemurafenib was given to patients in Australia and US and increased life expectancy by many months. 16 months of extra life was provided by vemurafenib (0n average) compared with only 9 months using the current, conventional treatment.
Malignant Melanoma, a type of aggressive skin cancer, is relatively rare and accounts for roughly 10% of skin cancer cases. However, despite it’s low frequency it has the highest death rate of all skin cancers due to it’s aggressive nature. Experts believe it is caused by over-exposure to sunlight, more specifically from UV light, meaning that sun beds and sun lamps could also be a cause.
Vemurafenib, also known as Zelboraf, has been put forward for approval for usage in Europe. It is suitable for over 50% of advanced skin cancer patients because it targets a specific type of tumor cell. A specific gene must be expressed in those cells for this drug to work.
Currently, the official stance on this drug is that it is not a cure and will only provide an additional 6 – 8 months of life for a patient. This is because the cancer will eventually become resistant to the drug and no longer be beneficial.
There is still no data on the other side effects of the drug; many anti-cancer drugs have unwanted side effects that can sometimes be life threatening:
Herceptin – can cause a hardening of the pericardium, making it harder for the heart to work.
Tamoxifen – is carcinogenic
Dichloroacetate – can cause liver carcinoma
Hopefully, the safety and toxicity data will be published once more testing is completed. However, the drug does look like a good short term fix to allow better treatments to be developed and for the targeted treatment to be built upon.