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Could this new lung cancer drug help victims of asbestos?

It is hoped that a new drug will prove to be the breakthrough needed in the treatment of advanced lung cancer. Current success rates for treating this disease at an advanced stage are poor, with 81% of patients reportedly passing away within a year of diagnosis.

The new drug, called Nivolumab, is still in the early stages of testing, but may help people suffering from lung cancer – including those related to occupational asbestos exposure – to enjoy a longer and more comfortable life.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the body which decides whether or not a drug should become available for use on the NHS. If Nivolumab is deemed to be safe, cost-effective, and appropriate for use with cancer patients, it may provide hope for the victims of asbestos-related disease.

Awareness of asbestos diseases and their long latency period

One of the reasons why asbestos-related lung cancers are generally at an advanced stage when a patient visits their GP, is the long period between occupational exposure and the onset of symptoms.

This latency period can be as much as sixty years, and it’s often too late for the medical profession to offer any significant hope for their patients once they start to feel unwell.

Occupational exposure to asbestos was a significant danger prior to its UK ban in 1999. During the 1950s and 1960s, workers were provided with little training or health and safety advice when working with the lethal substance.

Testing still at an early stage

Nivolumab encourages the immune system to attack cancerous cells in the body, and could slow down the growth of tumours in some cases. Testing is at an early stage, however, and there is no guarantee that NICE will pass the drug for use by the NHS.

Dr Greystoke, an expert in the field of cancer treatment, commented on the impact on cancer patients if NICE decide not to pass the drug,

“If turned down, this will have a bigger impact on the older, frailer patients. Chemotherapy is less well tolerated as patients get older due to their increasing number of other health problems.”

Occupational exposure to asbestos

Although it is difficult to specifically identify asbestos as the cause of some lung cancers if the victim has also smoked in the past, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that more than 2,000 people die from asbestos-related lung cancers in Great Britain every year.

One patient suffering this type of cancer has chosen to pay for the drug himself. Mr Anthony Martin believes he was exposed to asbestos during his working life, and because he’s a non-smoker, his advanced lung cancer has been attributed to occupational asbestos exposure.

It is reported that since using Nivolumab, Mr Martin’s health has improved, although he is still to receive confirmation that his tumours are shrinking. Hopefully other victims of asbestos will be able to benefit from the drug on the NHS, improve their prognosis, and enjoy their later years.