New drug cures cancer for 100% of patients in trialDoctors have successfully cured rectal cancer in patients thanks to an experimental drug trial.
Oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York found that the latest tests of patients showed no evidence of cancer.
The treatment uses immunotherapy which harnesses the body’s own immune system as an ally against cancer.
Sascha Roth, the first patient in the clinical trial involving immunotherapy had undergone six months of treatment.
For the first time, the MSK clinical trial was investigating if immunotherapy alone could beat rectal cancer that had not spread to other tissues, in a subset of patients whose tumour contained a specific genetic mutation.
As the first patient to enroll in the trial, the research team was anxious that Roth’s experience might prove to be an outlier but the same remarkable result was repeated in all 14 people in the trial.
In every case, the rectal cancer disappeared after immunotherapy — without the need for the standard treatments of radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy — and cancer has not returned in any of the patients, who have been cancer-free for up to two years.
‘It’s incredibly rewarding to get these happy tears and happy emails from the patients in this study who finish treatment and realize, “Oh my God, I get to keep all my normal body functions that I feared I might lose to radiation or surgery,”‘ said Dr. Andrea Cercek, a medical oncologist working on the trial.
The patients in the study had tumours with a specific genetic makeup known as mismatch repair-deficient (MMRd) or microsatellite instability (MSI).
There are 45,000 Americans diagnosed a year with rectal cancer. Between 5% and 10% of all rectal cancer patients are thought to have MMRd tumours.
‘Immunotherapy has proven successful in treating a subset of patients with colon and rectal cancer that has metastasized, meaning spread to other tissues,’ explained Dr Luis Diaz, Jr., a co-investigator on the trial.
The clinical trial also focused on avoiding the toxicity often associated with treatment for rectal cancer as the standard treatment for rectal cancer with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can be particularly hard on people because of the location of the tumour.
‘They can suffer life-altering bowel and bladder dysfunction, incontinence, infertility, s*xual dysfunction, and more,’ said Dr Diaz.