Australians living with inoperable malignant mesothelioma - a rare and aggressive cancer mainly due to asbestos exposure - are set to access the nation's first reimbursed immunotherapy for this cancer.
OPDIVO® (nivolumab) plus YERVOY® (ipilimumab) were listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme at the start of July for unresectable malignant mesothelioma.
These immunotherapies work together to help activate the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.
Medical oncologist from Greenslopes Private Hospital Keith Horwood said the reimbursement of a new therapy represents a significant milestone for Australians living with this devastating disease.
"Each year, between 700-800 Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma," Dr Horwood said.
"Although Australia has one of the world's highest incidence rates of mesothelioma,1,7 we have limited PBS reimbursed treatment options for patients.
"For survival rates to improve, patients must receive timely access to novel treatments, which is why as clinicians, we welcome the first reimbursed immunotherapy for mesothelioma."
More than 90 per cent of Australians living with mesothelioma cite possible or probable exposure to asbestos, as the cause of their disease with men more likely to be diagnosed due to increased workplace exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma can lay dormant for decades, taking between 20 - 60 years to develop after asbestos exposure. This means diagnosis is often delayed and most patients present with advanced or inoperable disease.
Former Gold Coast butcher and retired construction worker, Alan, 75, wasn't familiar with the rare and aggressive cancer before being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2020 after experiencing persistent shortness of breath.
"The first thing I thought when they told me I had mesothelioma, was 'geez, that sounds like a country in Europe.'I wasn't prepared for the devastating news that followed," Alan said.
"When they told me it was asbestos-related, I eventually traced it back to a butcher shop I renovated in the 1970s. Back then we didn't know the dangers of asbestos, so it was in everything and was everywhere. It's just bad luck really.
"I've had 75 good years, and I'm hoping with treatment, to get a few more, so I can spend it with my grandkids and watch them grow up," Alan said.