Nivolumab (Opdivo), was one of nine drugs caught up in a dispute over funding earlier in the year. The row was resolved after the HSE received clarity on funding from the Department of Health. The HSE had said it could not fund the drugs — to treat cancer, heart disease and depression — from its current budget.
However, state reimbursement of Opdivo will be in place from today in public hospitals for appropriate patients.
For those with melanoma, like Sarah, it can be used in combination with Ipilimumab (Ippy). Sarah said it was “a great comfort blanket” to know that treatment option will be available if she needs it.
Treatment with Interferon proved unsuccessful.
Sarah, who developed an itchy spot on her back during pregnancy, pointed it out to two GPs who dismissed her concerns. However for her six-week post-natal check-up, she went to a GP who specialises in dermatology.
Not liking what he saw, he removed it. Sarah, who has two daughters, aged 8 and 10, as well as 19-month-old Joey, subsequently found out it was malignant melanoma.
A surgeon did a bigger incision on her back and removed four lymph glands from each armpit — one gland on her left side was cancerous. The remaining lymph nodes were removed.
She had weeks of intensive treatment, including injecting herself with Interferon, but last February, found another lump under her armpit and nine more tumours were found. “It meant the Interferon hadn’t worked, which was a blow, because it was such a horrible treatment,” she said. “There were days when I wasn’t able to hold my baby.”
Her doctor switched treatment to Ippy last May. Coming to the end of that treatment, another lump was found under the same armpit and while it was melanoma, it hadn’t spread.
More treatment followed, and then a PET scan last Monday which was clear. Sarah is now waiting to hear from her doctor if she will continue with Ippy or whether she can have combination treatment now that reimbursement is in place. Sarah said Ippy and Nivolumab “work very well together, especially for my type of cancer at my stage”.
The HSE will also reimburse Opdivo in certain cases of advanced renal cell carcinoma and in certain cases of adult patients with relapsed or refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma.