June 10, 2022

A Cure for Cancer?

Several new drugs have extremely promising results on patients suffering from rectal and pancreatic cancer.

Good news is often hard to come by, especially when it comes to the “emperor of all maladies”: cancer. All of us have known someone or lost someone to a form of this heinous disease, and it has been difficult for doctors to find and develop treatments that increase life expectancy, let alone leave the sufferer whole. There may be good news on the horizon, particularly for those suffering from rectal and pancreatic cancer.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, a new medicine was tried on 18 patients with either stage II or stage III rectal cancer. Initially, the trial was to have these patients take the new drug and then have chemoradio therapy or surgery after. Rectal cancer, though imminently survivable, often leaves the survivor with urinary, bowel, or sexual dysfunction as a result of the surgery.

Over the course of half a year, these patients were given a dose of a drug called dostarlimab every three weeks. Dostarlimab unmasks cancer cells, thereby enabling the immune system to destroy them. The hope was that the immunotherapy treatment would lessen the tumors. At the end of the trial, all 12 cancer patients who had completed the course of dostarlimab miraculously went into remission. There were no further detectable tumors for those 6-25 months after taking the drug. No further treatments such as chemo or surgery were needed.

Doctors who administered the new treatment were ecstatic. Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr., one of the oncologists, said, “I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer.” Dr. Andrea Cercek said there were “lots of happy tears.”

The New England Journal of Medicine has published a paper on the findings. The trial needs to be replicated on a new batch of patients, but the initial results are incredibly promising. Dr. Hanna K. Sanoff of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center was cautiously optimistic: “These initial findings of the remarkable benefit with the use of dostarlimab are very encouraging but also need to be viewed with caution until the results can be replicated in a larger and more diverse population.”

Another amazing development has surged to the forefront of cancer treatment. An mRNA vaccine has had a successful trial run in those fighting pancreatic cancer. It is the same technology as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. The shot essentially trains the immune system to target and destroy tumors. According to the New York Post, “Half of the patients remained cancer-free 18 months after having their tumors removed and receiving the jabs.”

Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly and devastating. Those who are afflicted with it have a low survival rate. In fact, 90% of patients die within two years of receiving the bad news. That’s why these results are a tremendous step forward.

Both of these innovations in immunotherapies may be the key to more effective treatments with fewer side effects. These potentially huge breakthroughs in the battle against cancer are bringing new hope to patients, their doctors, and anyone who has loved and lost someone to this horrible malady.

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