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Saturday, May 15, 2021
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Affordable access to melanoma treatment

Eligible patients will now have affordable access to melanoma treatment options on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The Federal Government recently announced the current PBS listing of Opdivo (nivolumab) will be expanded to include adjuvant treatment of completely resected stage IIIB, IIIC, IIID and stage IV malignant melanoma.

Immuno-oncology treatments, like Opdivo, use the body’s natural defences – the immune system – to fight cancer.

Associate Professor Matteo Carlino, medical oncologist and lead investigator at the Melanoma Institute Australia, welcomed this PBS listing as an important new option for healthcare practitioners.

“Traditionally, once patients finished their primary treatment (usually surgery), the approach was to watch and wait, hoping the cancer did not return. Now, adjuvant treatment can help reduce the risk of cancer returning for some patients with a higher risk of melanoma coming back.”

Local resident Allira was diagnosed with melanoma at 22. “It was a normal mole on my right arm but in hindsight it showed all the signs,” she said, including being itchy, changing colour and bleeding.

“Dad saw it on my arm and said I should get it checked. I knew what was going on wasn’t great but I was in denial.”

Allira underwent surgery, was given the all clear and, as advised, remained vigilant and continued to have regular scans. Almost seven years later she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma after tests found a lump on her arm and tumour in her lung, both of which were surgically removed.

At the time Allira started adjuvant immune-therapy treatment, she said it cost about $3,000 per fortnight. “That was very stressful and I thought we would be paying that all year.”

Thankfully, she said, there was a bridging program which came into effect about three months into her treatment program and “from that point the drug company covered the cost of it”.

It is expected the PBS listing will provide welcome financial relief for those accessing the treatment. It is estimated more than 1,500 patients might otherwise pay more than $100,000 per course of treatment without the PBS subsidy.

The Federal Government is also expanding the listing of Opdivo and Yervoy (nivolumab and ipilimumab) to allow use as a first-line therapy in the treatment of BRAF V600 mutant positive Stage III or Stage IV unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

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