New melanoma treatment reduces the risk of reoccurrence

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Around 1,500 people aged 12 years and over will benefit from a new melanoma treatment that reduces the risk of reoccurrence and spreading.

Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It develops from cells called melanocytes that grow and divide more quickly than usual. The primary cause of this disease is UV radiation exposure, which can be from natural sunlight or artificial lights found in sunbeds or sunlamps.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has announced that pembrolizumab will be recommended for 2b and 2c melanoma following surgery to remove the tumours (adjuvant treatment). Stage 2 melanoma is defined as having penetrating tumours that have not spread to the lymph nodes or other body parts.

“Having a medicine that can mop up any residual cancer cells after surgery is important as it significantly reduces the risk of the cancer returning,” commented Helen Knight, interim director of medicines evaluation at NICE.

What is pembrolizumab?

Pembrolizumab is already used for other cancers such as bladder, kidney and non-small cell lung cancer. The new guidance from NICE recommends this medication as stage 2b or 2c melanoma treatment following adjuvant surgery and is set to help around 1,500 people.

New evidence has revealed that adjuvant pembrolizumab increases how long people live without cancer coming back and getting worse compared with placebo. However, there is not enough evidence that indicates how much longer it helps people live following this melanoma treatment.

Introducing pembrolizumab for this type of melanoma treatment will likely change the treatment pathway, resulting in uncertainty surrounding cost-effectiveness estimates. Despite this, they are within what NICE considers an acceptable use of NHS resources.

A new melanoma treatment

This new melanoma treatment will be used following adjuvant surgery. Adjuvant surgery works by removing any remaining microscopic disease following surgery to reduce the risk of relapse or the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Currently, routine follow-ups to monitor for signs of reoccurrence, as opposed to any form of prevention of additional tumours, is the standard care offered.

This melanoma treatment was initially recommended by NICE as an adjuvant treatment for resected stage 3 melanoma in February 2022.

Minister of State for Health Will Quince said: “We are constantly looking for new and innovative cancer treatments as part of our fight against the disease – and the approval of this new drug will benefit hundreds of patients.

“It means people recovering from skin cancer will have a much lower risk of their cancer returning, helping them to lead longer and healthier lives.”

Blake Dark, NHS Commercial Medicines Director, said: “Working closely with NICE, the deal NHS England agreed with MSD for this new treatment option will give 1,500 melanoma patients in England who have already had surgery a better long-term chance of being cancer-free and follows the 100th treatment fast-tracked to patients through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

“If you notice potential cancer symptoms, please come forward for care.”

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