Hundreds of patients with the most aggressive type of skin cancer could benefit from a drug after it was approved for use on the NHS.
Drug company Novartis said the combination of dabrafenib and trametinib has been recommended as a treatment option for the treatment of adult patients with stage III melanoma with a BRAF V600 mutation, following surgery.
More than 500 people are diagnosed with BRAF-mutated stage III melanoma in the UK every year.
Stage III melanoma means that cancer cells have spread into skin, lymph vessels or lymph glands close to the melanoma but not to more distant parts of the body.
Until now, there were no reimbursed drug treatments that offered clear benefits for these patients following surgery, and as a result, nearly half (44%) of those with BRAF V600 mutated melanoma suffer a recurrence within a year after surgery, with the risk that the cancer progresses to an incurable state.
Novartis said clinical trial results showed the drug combination reduced the risk of melanoma returning or death by more than 50%.
The oral treatment is likely to benefit around 550 patients every year in the UK, who would previously have to simply wait and hope their cancer does not return after surgery.
Ruth Plummer, professor of experimental cancer medicine at Newcastle University, said: “This is really significant for these patients and the melanoma community in England and Wales, as the treatment has the potential to transform the standard of care for people with BRAF-positive stage III melanoma.
“We know this can be a stressful and unsettling as over half of all patients with stage III disease will experience a recurrence in the future, leaving people anxious and worried that their disease might return.
“It is clear that treating patients with dabrafenib and trametinib after their surgery reduces the chance of recurrence.”
Melanoma accounts for more deaths than all other skin cancers combined.
There are around 2,400 deaths from melanoma skin cancer in the UK every year, with more than six people dying every day.
Gill Nuttall, chief executive of the charity Melanoma UK, said: “Worryingly, we are continuing to see an increase in the number of people in the UK with melanoma, especially among younger people.
“The availability of this treatment is a huge step forward for the hundreds of BRAF-positive patients who are currently left with very few options following surgery.
“The current ‘watch and wait’ approach is an extremely worrying and stressful time for patients and their families.”