A new, non-toxic treatment for skin cancer that replaces chemotherapy with calcium could be available for patients in a clinical trial at Cork University Hospital by November.

Breakthrough Cancer Research has given the project the green light and, all going well, the non-surgical treatment could become more widely available within a year.

The hope is that the treatment can be delivered on an out-patient basis, making it more accessible, but the charity needs €100,000 to continue to fund this new life-saving research.

Leading the research is consultant plastic surgeon and clinical lead for electrochemotherapy at University College Cork and CUH, Mr James Clover.

He has spent more than 10 years working on electrochemotherapy — a targeted form of chemotherapy and is now moving it to the next stage by replacing chemo with calcium.

ECT is a localised treatment that combines low-dose chemotherapy with an electrical pulse that allows the chemo to enter cancer cells and destroy malignancies.

New skin cancer treatment greenlit for trials in CUH
European Champion, Olympian and performance and wellness advocate David Gillick. Pic: Trevor Hart.

Calcium electroporation introduces lethally high calcium concentrations into the cancer cells.

Mr Clover plans to have around 120 patients involved in the trial at CUH of the new treatment for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in Ireland. 

It will take about a year to recruit and treat the patients and when it is shown to work well the treatment can be given to suitable patients outside the trial.

Mr Clover said he is hopeful that the treatment could be more widely available towards the end of next year: “We have been extremely fortunate to have been able to offer patients electrochemotherapy through the support of Breakthrough Cancer Research here in Ireland for over ten years now.

New treatments like these do not happen overnight and must go through a robust testing process to ensure it is both safe and effective before it ever reaches a patient. With the support of Breakthrough Cancer Research, we have been continuing to look at how we can develop the treatment by making it more effective and useful for a wider range of patients.” 

New skin cancer treatment greenlit for trials in CUH
Sisters Lily O Sullivan and Gerry O Sullivan get sun-ready. Pic: Clare Keogh.

Mr Clover said the new treatment could be the “magic bullet” they were looking for because patients would not have to be admitted to hospital.

It would mean that patients could be brought into an office or small surgery, have a little bit of topical cream applied on the site and some needles inserted to shrink the little skin cancer away.

Breakthrough Cancer Research is an Irish medical research charity that is striving to achieve a 100% cancer survival rate.

As well as new treatments it is emphasising the need for better UV awareness in a new campaign that shows that most people are not sun savvy.

A national survey conducted by Breakthrough Cancer Research found that 73% of Irish adults patch burn regularly and 72% do not know the UV index at which they should use sunscreen.

The charity's national awareness campaign — Let's get to 100% Together — warns about the importance of protecting skin from UV damage all of the time.

The campaign is supported by television and radio broadcaster and former All-Ireland winning camogie captain, Anna Geary, and Olympian, David Gillick, who want people who love sports and the outdoors to develop a healthy sun behaviour.

Chief executive of Breakthrough Cancer Research, Orla Dolan, said people should do everything they can to protect themselves properly while the researchers work on new treatments.

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