The NHS is to offer miracle cancer drug that stops disease returning to kidneys.
Pembrolizumab, which is given to patients by injection, is poised to become the standard treatment after surgery following a trial where survival rates soared. The condition is curable by surgery in 60% of cases.
But if it returns doctors say the outlook is bleak and only 15% of sufferers survive after five years, and many die in two. Kidney cancer is not helped by chemotherapy which usually kills off cancer cells. Health professionals often had to wait before the disease returned before drugs could be offered.
The results of a major clinical trial, however, suggest pembrolizumab injections every three weeks increase the chances of survival by 38%. It helps the immune system fighter cells to discover and destroy tumours with successes in treating skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer and lymphoma.
The medication was first approved in 2022 for those whose cancer had returned and with other targeted treatments; it helped increase survival among patients.
Prof Tom Powles, the director of Barts Cancer Centre in London, said: “Before we had pembrolizumab and the other targeted therapies, kidney cancer patients would often die with a year of a recurrence. This then improved to between two and five years. Now we know if we give people pembrolizumab immediately after surgery, and patients take it for a year, we can reduce the risk of death and cure more patients.’
Up to 80 per cent of kidney cancer patients could now be offered pembrolizumab after surgery because of its effectiveness. In the past one in ten patients given the drug stopped taking it because of its side effects, But Professor Powles reckons more patients may be willing to take the medication because the drug is likely to help them live longer.
Chesney Lewis was among a 1,000 people on trial after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. He said he felt lucky the condition had been spotted and relived it was immediately dealt with. He had injections every three weeks for a year but had few side effects.
The Daily Mail reports he said: “Doctors saved my life by taking out the kidney that had the cancer, and whatever treatment I’ve had afterwards has protected me from it from coming back. It means I can be with my family, enjoy my retirement and not worry about cancer.
The Mirror told last year how kidney cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease in the UK, but patients often don’t realise they have it until it gets picked up by an unrelated medical test.
The NHS says it usually affects adults in their 60s or 70s, and is rare in people under 50. It can often be cured if found early enough, but can be harder to treat if it has spread beyond the kidney.
Part of the urinary system, the kidneys filter waste products out of the blood and make urine. Cancer Research UK says kidney disease has around a 52% survival rate, with some 34% of cases deemed preventable. Despite its prevalence, kidney cancer often goes unnoticed as around half of cases don’t display any symptoms, according to the NHS.