Retired police officer welcomes ‘long overdue’ skin cancer drug

Donald McLellan who has skin cancer
Donald McLellan who has skin cancer
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A retired police officer with stage three melanoma has welcomed the approval of a life-prolonging drug in Scotland.

Father-of-two Donald McLellan said the decision to approve the drug pembrolizumab for advanced skin cancer was “long overdue and brilliant news” for people living with the illness.

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Mr McLellan was diagnosed five years ago after a mole on his back was discovered by chance by his daughter.

A biopsy revealed aggressive melanoma and, following four operations, he is now receiving check-ups every three months.

The approval by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK and means melanoma patients will now be able to access pembrolizumab via the NHS after surgery.

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The decision coincides with Skin Cancer Awareness Month, with incidence rates in Scotland having increased 15 per cent in ten years.

Mr McLellan said: “I’m delighted there’s now a drug that’s going to help people in the prevention of melanoma because that takes a big part of the responsibility away from yourself in terms of trying to look and getting your wife or your partner to have a look for you. Like most people who maybe get cancer, you’re well aware that your younger years are when you probably never looked after your skin and that’s possibly what causes it to occur in later life.

“I always tell people the best thing they can do is not sit in the sun for long periods as you’re putting yourself at risk. But I’m not here to lecture anyone.”

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. In Scotland, there were more than 1,300 cases diagnosed in 2016. The decision marks the sixth SMC approval for pembrolizumab, further broadening access for Scottish patients across a number of cancer types.

Dr Ashita Waterston, a consultant medical oncologist at Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, said: “Historically, after surgery, patients with stage three melanoma have been placed on routine surveillance, so called ‘watch and wait’, to monitor if their cancer returns. Great advances have been made in the treatment of advanced melanoma. However, in this setting there remains a proportion of patients who do not benefit.

“The incidences of the disease across all stages sadly continue to increase across Scotland.

“This decision, therefore, offers patients a treatment option in treating melanoma alongside surgery, potentially improving outcomes by reducing risk of their disease recurring.”

Gill Nuttall, chief executive and founder of Melanoma UK, said: “In Scotland, melanoma is fast becoming one of the most common forms of cancer where we have seen a considerable rise in the number of diagnosed cases. It is therefore great news that, from today, patients in Scotland benefit from this treatment option.”