on air now

New cancer treatments could make chemotherapy a thing of the past

Chemotherapy could become a thing of the past for up to two-in-three cancer patients, as the federal government considers subsidising new immunotherapy treatments.

Immunotherapy treatments Keytruda and Optivo are already subsidised for melanoma, lung cancer and kidney cancer, but the slow process of seeking subsidisation has left many patients with other types of cancer in limbo.

This morning Professor Grant McArthur, Head of the Cancer Therapeutics program at the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, told Ross and John that there is evidence that immunotherapy treatments are effective for many types of cancer.

“The data as its emerging is that these drugs actually have activity in a broad range of cancers, so the challenge is to speed up the process to get access for more patients, for more cancers, as quickly as we can”, he said.

“What’s interesting is that in some cancers, like melanoma, the immune treatments have completely replaced chemotherapy… in other cancers they’re gradually moving in… so one would think ten to twenty years from now there would still be some cancers which chemotherapy works very well for, like testicular cancer where it can cure patients even with advanced disease, but other cancers will be treated predominantly with immunotherapies.”

Professor McArthur said immune treatments have far fewer negative side effects than chemotherapy.

“The way chemotherapy works is it damages molecules inside our cells… The revolutionary thing about immunotherapy is we’re actually boosting our bodies own defences. Our immune system fights viruses all the time and by turning it on you’re actually using your bodies own defence mechanism to attack the cancer.”

Press PLAY below to hear Ross and John’s full chat with Professor Grant McArthur.