'Show Compassion': Absestos-Related Cancer Sufferers Plead For Govt Help As Costs Mount

Graham Clarke is dying.

The 71-year-old retiree has a tumour the size of a ping pong ball growing in his lung, and has been given a 10 percent chance of making it to Christmas.

The cancer he's been diagnosed with -- mesothelioma -- is rare, aggressive, extremely painful, and incurable.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, and more than 60 people have died from the illness this year alone.

Yet the drug Keytruda, which is being touted as a miracle drug for cancer patients, has provided some positive outcomes for fellow mesothelioma sufferers.

The catch? It costs just under $6,000 per treatment. And Graham needs three of them.

Under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Keytruda costs just $40 a pop. It was originally listed for people diagnosed with melanoma, and from November 1 it will be made available for patients with advanced lung cancer -- but not, crucially, for mesothelioma sufferers like Graham.

"What gets me is that I was getting calls from family and friends, saying 'Isn't this great? You'll get it on the PBS'!" he told 10 daily.

"But no, you don't, because it isn't your typical lung cancer."

He's already paid $6,000 for one round of Keytruda, and is about to have his second treatment. Hopefully, he'll make it to a third round of treatment, which means by the end, he'll have forked out almost $18,000 for something that would cost just $120 if he had a different type of cancer.

"Once my funds run out, what do I do?" Graham said. "Just curl up and die? Because I can't afford the treatment?"

He's written a letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt, imploring him to make the subsidy available to mesothelioma sufferers before he runs out of funds, which will be "sooner rather than later".

Part of the letter Graham has written to Greg Hunt. Photo: Supplied.

According to the Asbestos Disease Support Society, Hunt said there simply wasn't the data to support including mesothelioma on the PBS. 10 daily has reached out to the minister for comment.

That's despite 700 new people being diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and the ADSS warning that we haven't reached yet reached the peak.

"Unfortunately, mesothelioma seems to be one of the forgotten cancers," said ADSS General Manager Trevor Torrens.

"Keytruda is providing positive outcomes for many of our members who suffer from this disease, but at sometimes crippling costs."

The only known cause is exposure to asbestos, but it can take decades for asbestos fibres -- which are 200 times thinner than a human hair, and can easily be inhaled deep into the lungs -- to cause mesothelioma.

"Just this year alone, more than 60 of our members have succumbed to an asbestos related disease, predominantly mesothelioma," said ADSS chair Phil Blair.

"All they did was turn up to work to earn a living or just went about their daily lives. It's bad enough dealing with the devastating medical and emotional consequences of mesothelioma, but to also have to pay thousands of dollars for treatment is not fair."

The ADSS is calling on Hunt to "show some compassion" and make subsidies available to mesothelioma sufferers .

Keytruda isn't a 'miracle drug', and it won't cure mesothelioma. But it can shrink the tumour and stop the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.

"Without treatment, you're going to die," said Graham.

"And I'm okay with that. But I think we should be given the best chance we've got to stop the spread of mesothelioma. That's the idea. We need it on the PBS so we aren't out of pocket, and we can give it our best shot."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: Supplied.