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Fresh hope for lung cancer patients


AWARENESS: Aoife McNamara, cancer info service nurse specializing in lung cancer, national cancer help line.

AWARENESS: Aoife McNamara, cancer info service nurse specializing in lung cancer, national cancer help line.

AWARENESS: Aoife McNamara, cancer info service nurse specializing in lung cancer, national cancer help line.

SIX new clinical trials involving lung cancer patients have begun here in the past year bringing hope to sufferers.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Ireland.

Mortalities here are listed as the fourth highest in Europe – with women's cases at 50pc above the European average.

January is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and experts have said that early diagnosis is key as treatments have advanced significantly in recent years.

Dr Linda Coate is the chair of the lung cancer research group within the All Ireland Co-Operative Oncology Research Group (ICORG) and said: "It's a very exciting time for lung cancer treatment."

The group facilitates access to research treatments in the form of clinical trials for Irish cancer patients.

"It is crucial that Ireland is involved in these trials," said Dr Coate, a medical oncologist, who works at University Hospital Limerick.



"Research is an integral part of treating cancer patients, because we are always trying to improve things," the expert said.

The oncologist said that clinical trials which are carried out at cancer centres of excellence – of which there are eight in Ireland – are a broad mix.

"What we test in trials are new drugs, we hope will bring new hope, and we test combinations of drugs that exist that have not been used together before, again hoping for better outcomes.

"In relation to lung cancer, around five drugs and new combinations of drugs are being tested," said Dr Coate.

Around 100 Irish patients with lung cancer are currently taking part in clinical trials and this number is set to grow, Dr Coate told the Herald.

She said that there "are some quite exciting new developments that we are getting access to because we have a structure like ICORG".

Treatment of the condition has changed beyond all recognition over the past 15 years.

But new research has identified that cancer sufferers are increasingly finding it difficult to obtain a discretionary medical card.

The Irish Cancer Society has noted an upsurge in the number of people making contact with its helpline in relation to the matter.



A spokeswoman for the Irish Cancer Society told the Herald: "We are aware of the public discussion about accessing medical cards and want to reassure cancer patients that the criteria for a medical card has not changed.

"Nevertheless, the Irish Cancer Society has observed a trend on the National Cancer Helpline that callers are contacting us more frequently about not being able to access a medical card.

"Our priority is to cancer patients and we believe that navigating the medical card system should be straightforward and transparent so that no additional stress is caused."

She added that the society urged Health Minister James Reilly "to consider the high cost of some cancers to patients and their families and to ensure that no one who needs a medical card has to go without".

The withdrawal of discretionary cards continues to cause controversy across the health service.

Dr Coate pointed out that smoking cessation is absolutely "the cornerstone of lung cancer prevention".

However, she said there are a lot more treatments available now than ten to 20 years ago. Now there is access to clinical trials and this is absolutely ballooning.

New treatments are coming on stream all the time, she said.



"I actively search for them. So for instance, whenever there is an academic meeting, in particular a lung cancer meeting, I will be meeting industry partners and co-operative groups, always pitching for Ireland. I represent Ireland to those groups, and try and get those trials in for our patients in this country.

"Then at a national level, once we know how many sites we are allowed to open, we decide where those sites are going to be," said Dr Coate.

However, some of the new cutting-edge treatments are hugely expensive which is a concern.

Lung cancer is Ireland's fourth most common cancer affecting some 2,200 people here annually.

Aoife McNamara, a specialist lung cancer information nurse with the Irish Cancer Society, said that "with early detection, there is a real chance of effective treatment and potential cure".

"Don't ignore symptoms," she advised. She pointed out that patients can been seen at rapid access lung clinics quickly – which were rolled out by the national cancer control programme – where their GP refers them.