Funded treatments limited for lung cancer patients

Lung cancer is New Zealand's biggest cancer killer but funded treatments that could help hundreds of patients are limited.

Life extending immunotherapy drugs are funded in 54 other countries but plans to fund them here have been put on hold due to COVID-19.

John Garvey and wife Emma are still reeling after receiving the phone that told them John's niggling cough was more sinister. 

"[They] gave me a call on the 21st of September...which is my 46th birthday and said I've got a big lump."

The father of two has stage four lung cancer and his story is not an uncommon one. 

Lung cancer kills 34 people in New Zealand each week, around 1800 people a year.  That's more than melanoma, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Oncologists say they want more options for patients and immunotherapy drugs should be an option here.

"What we have at the moment is just traditional chemotherapy. When you add in immune therapy about twice as many people respond and we can extend peoples lives about twice as long," says oncologist and lung cancer specialist, Gareth Rivalland.

John, who was initially given months to live, is a perfect candidate for the treatment. 

"When this option came along it was just incredible because it's given me a fighting chance."

The drug Keytruda is not funded by Pharmac for lung cancer, so he's having to find tens of thousands of dollars. 

Earlier this year PHARMAC had been looking to fund the drug for lung cancer patients, but it's put plans on hold. It said in a statement that it can't commit to investment in treatments for lung cancer until it understands the longer-term cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With no time to wait, a GiveALittle page has been set up to help fund John's treatment.

"We feel we're soul mates and you know it's just wanna not lose each other," says Emma.