UK: Half of people surviving advanced melanoma due to immunotherapy drugs

UK Doctors say in this article that over half of melanoma patients are now surviving the disease that was considered untreatable a decade ago. Immunotherapy drugs are making a big impact on survival rates and quality of life. A clinical trial was done and had side effects like fatigue, rashes and diarrhoea, and after the trial the decision to make these drugs available worldwide was one of the fastest in NHS history. It is paying dividends. 

Cancer-stricken business owner struggling to sell Auckland restaurant for third of purchase price

Breast cancer patient Kingna Yu tells her story of struggling financially as she loses money on her Auckland business due to City Rail works taking place in front of her store. She has put breast reconstruction surgery on hold while she waits to see if there is a chance to get compensation for the decline in business. Click here to read more.

This is a desperately sad situation which shows the value of having a buffer against events - and if that buffer cannot be cash, it could be insurance. Of course, there is no way of knowing exactly what this person's situation was - so just to acknowledge that may not have been possible for them. 

Obesity and cancer

Obesity is a factor in cancer, this article explains how that works - and the changes necessary to reduce risks. My favourite part of the article is where they explains the action of a drug trial:

Prof Lydia Lynch said: "A compound that can block the fat uptake by natural killer cells might help.

"We tried it in the lab and found it allowed them to kill again.

"But arguably a better way would be to lose some weight - because that is healthier for you anyway."

You mean a better diet and more exercise? Dammit, I was hoping for a pill!

National Portrait: For Chris Jackson, patients are his passion

Dr Chris Jackson, medical director of the Cancer Society discusses in this article his thoughts on what Kiwis should be doing to decrease their chance of being one of the 9,615 people who died of cancer in one year. Jackson is a consultant medical oncologist at Dunedin Hospital, where he specialises in gastro-intestinal, melanoma and urological cancers. He also has a leadership role in Cancer Trials New Zealand and co-founded the Mercy Cancer Care Unit, providing specialist oncology services to the lower South Island.

Click here to read more, but here's Dr Chris Jackson's prescription in a nutshell:

"The 15 per cent of people who smoke need to join the 85 per cent of people who don't. We all need to make sure we are SunSmart, and not just on a sunny day at the beach. We need to moderate how much alcohol we drink, eats lots of fruit and veg and make sure we get at least three hours of exercise every week."

Scientists claim breakthrough after terminal breast cancer cured

After seven types of chemotherapy failed Judy Perkins was given just months to live but has since be has been “cured” by an injection harvested from her own immune system.

'Using a technique called adoptive cell transfer, scientists removed a tumour from her chest and determined which friendly T cells within it were capable of recognising the harmful cancer cells.

Over eight weeks, the team at the National Cancer Institute harvested the T cells into an army of 82 billion and then injected them back into Ms Perkins, turbocharging her immune system against the cancer.'

Click here to read more. 

Auckland DHB surgeons demand change as big gaps in cancer care found

Surgeons have demanded an urgent "sea change" at one of the country's largest health boards and accused management of recklessness.

The extraordinary step came shortly after a major review found cancer services had been affected by workplace and inter-DHB politics stretching back years.

That contributed to "significant gaps" in head and neck cancer services in Auckland and Northland, with staff giving anecdotal examples of cancer progressing during delays.

Click here to read more.

Excellent article on access to cancer drugs

The story of revolutionary immunotherapy drug Keytruda crystallised the debate over our access to high-priced cancer medicines. This article provides an excellent overview of a number of complex issues includeing: Pharmac funding, drug development, price negotiations, and treatment outcomes. Donna Chisholm reports in this article at Well worth a read.

Cancer: out of control epidemic or evidence of human progress?

World cancer day on February the 4th brought a lot of writing about cancer to the web. Some of that is useful information for committed insurance professionals. It isn't all good news. For example, as some regions get wealthier they have increasing rates of cancer. That can be from a reduction in other causes of death that tend to occur earlier in life, but it can also come from a shift in lifestyle factors - such as eating more red meat. There is also plenty of good news there, and lots of potential for good news to come.

Much of the global increase in cancer arises from a reduction in other causes of death, and is simply a consequence of longer life. Much cancer could be avoided, for example, by increasing physical activity, eliminating tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption, and changing diet.

There are several good sources of more detailed information on global cancer trends. I found this report particularly useful. Also, Max Roser has several great data-visualisations on cancer and I reproduce two here to show both the increasing number of cases of cancer, and actual reduction in age-adjusted rates of cancer. (Do refer to his excellent blog post on the subject).

First, the number of cancer deaths by type:

 Contrast that with the age-standardised death rates from different forms of cancer over time and you get a more realistic picture, which also underlines the broad (albeit slow) progress that has been made on this terrible category of diseases: