Leanne Borg volunteered as a 'guinea pig' for a new cancer-fighting drug.
Leanne Borg volunteered as a 'guinea pig' for a new cancer-fighting drug. Kari Bourne

New cancer pill gives hope

AT last there is some good news in the war against cancer.

Coolum's Leanne Borg was not contemplating the future two years ago.

An aggressive melanoma, first diagnosed six years earlier, had spread to her lungs. She was considering "putting her affairs in order".

Then she was offered the chance to be a "guinea pig" for a new drug, Zelboraf.

The 51-year-old hairdresser admitted she was not normally one to put her hand up for an experiment.

"I was always the person who said they would never be a guinea pig," she said.

"Its amazing though, when something is put in front of you and you don't know what the future holds, you'll do what you have to."

She started treatment in February, and the results have been astounding.

"In the first eight weeks my tumour halved," she said.

"In the next eight weeks it didn't grow at all."

Ms Borg was thrilled with the news that the drug will soon be widely available with the Therapeutic Goods Administration granting its approval this week for those with advanced melanoma with a specific gene mutation.

It is a major step in treating what is known as "Australia's cancer" - melanomas.

The treatment was not without side effects, as Ms Borg had arthritic pains in her joints and it causes "skin to grow".

"I had such big calluses on my feet I couldn't walk for a while," she said. "But this has settled down."

The next vital step is to obtain funding via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The drug is already funded in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Britain and United States

Clinical Researcher and Medical Oncologist at The Melanoma Institute of Australia Dr Georgina Long said those living with advanced melanoma "may benefit from personalised medicine, such as this, which is designed to target a specific form of melanoma".

While it is generally curable if diagnosed early, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, as it did in Ms Borg's case.

And when this happens, five year survival rates drop by more than 90% with only one in four expected to be alive after a year. The average survival time for people with advanced melanoma is nine months.

 

WHAT IS ZELBORAF?

  • Must be prescribed by a doctor.
  • A prescription medicine used to treat a type of melanoma skin cancers, and that has a certain type of abnormal BRAF gene.
  • The most common side effects include: joint pain, rash, hair loss, tiredness, sunburn or sun sensitivity, nausea, itching and warts.


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