Melanoma Pill


Story Details

One little white pill could be answer we've be waiting for -- the drug which is being trialled globally, aims to break down the genetic cancer causing gene responsible for the majority of melanoma.

Melanoma claims 1200 lives around the country each year -- by the time you know you've got it, its often too late. "It is the Australian cancer because the incidence is highest in Australia across the world", said Director of Cancer Services at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra hospital, Dr Euan Walpole.

I met Nicole Gillispie in primary school when we were just carefree kids. Now she's facing the battle of her life. "Writing a will for the wrong reasons at the age of 28 is quite daunting", Nicole said.

Almost four years ago she noticed a mole on her stomach change and immediately underwent surgery. "The pathology came back as a level three melanoma", Nicole said.

But months later the aggressive cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, then pancreas, breast tissue and back.

The news rocked her tight knit family, mum Kerry and sister Laura. "I was devastated", Kerry said.

"It's hard to hear people judging and thinking it's something she's done", Laura said.

But Nicole had never sun-baked. Like more than half of all advanced melanoma patients she has a genetic mutation known as the B-Raff gene which makes her more susceptible to the deadly disease.

Nicole's melanoma is Stage 4 with statistics showing a life expectancy of just five years in 20% -- which is why she willingly volunteered to be part of the global trial of a new drug.

Currently the only treatment available is surgery, chemotherapy and radiation but they have limited success in advanced melanoma cases. "Chemotherapy is a very non-specific thing in the fact that what it does is target anything that grows so its blunderbust in many ways", said Dr Walpole.

Nicole has a rigorous hospital routine -- scans, bloods tests, heart tests, chemotherapy -- this is now her life.

"When she comes in we need to make sure her body is coping with the drugs so she has a couple of blood tests which let us know what is happening", said Kim Wright, the clinical trial co-ordinator.

"Some chemotherapy cause changes in the heart - so today she'll be having an ECG as well", Kim added.

Use of the medication in America has seen melanoma tumours shrink altogether but in some cases the drug stops working after nine months. Dr Walpole is cautiously optimistic. "We can see changes in pictures which might make things smaller but unless that's a durable effect, how much that changes the longevity and symptoms of patients is another question", he said.

"If the results continue to be positive as they were in the preliminary stages, it would mean we would have the first treatment for advanced melanoma that actually works", Dr Walpole said.

In the last 12 months since Nicole has been taking the trial drug, her tumours have shrunk -- some by half -- others have almost disappeared and now resemble scar tissue.

Her tumour in her pancreas, which initially halved in size, has grown. At the end of this week if that is the only sign of cancer, doctors will most likely operate on it..

As an ambassador for the Queensland Cancer Council Nicole wants to educate others about having regular check-ups. The earlier melanoma is discovered the better the chance of survival.

If this drug proves effective long term - it could help treat a host of other cancers including colorectal cancer and thyroid cancer.

If you would like more information on the trial or would like to donate money to the research, visit the websites at:
Princess Alexandra Hospital: 07 3234 0111