Aimee Jones reports on a recent monumental and encouraging breakthrough in cancer treatment.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Over the last 40-years, the survival rate for cancer has doubled. Now, whilst this is great progress, we still have a long way to go in terms of finding a cure, or a more effective, less damaging form of treatment.
The Fight Against Cancer
Cancer still claims the lives of millions of people each year, with approximately ten million people losing their life to cancer in 2020 alone. Some of the most common forms of cancer are, breast, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancers. In 2020, for example, rectal cancer took the lives of approximately 339,022 people across the world. The estimated 5-year survival rate is 67%, or, if diagnosed when in the localised stage, 90%.
The Effects of Dostarlimab
A recent study, conducted by American scientists, took a group of twelve rectal cancer patients to undergo experimental treatment. The twelve participants of the clinical trial all had advanced localised rectal cancer, with tumours that had a genetic mutation known as ‘Mismatch Repair Deficiency (MMRD)’. These types of tumours often do not respond well to typical cancer treatments such as chemoradiotherapy and tend to lead to surgical removal.
The clinical trial spanned across a minimum of twelve months; six months of treatment and at least six months of follow-ups to monitor the results and side effects. Once every three weeks, the twelve patients were each given the experimental drug, Dostarlimab.
Dostarlimab is not a new drug in the cancer world, however it is typically used to treat endometrial (womb) cancer. As an immunotherapy drug, the drug unmasks cancerous cells, making them known to the body’s natural immune system and giving the individual a chance to fight the disease for themselves. Dostarlimab works by blocking a certain protein within the cancerous cells, this helps the immune system to fight the cancer and slow down the growth of the tumour.
A Monumental Turning Point?
All twelve patients showed a complete clinical response to the medications, meaning that while the cancer may not be cured in general terms, there was no longer any signs of illness on any physical exams, colposcopies, PET scams or MRI scans. They were all in remission and ‘cancer free’ within sixth months. No other clinical trial in the history of cancer research has ever experienced this.
The patients then continued to have regular follow-ups to monitor their progress and it was found that two-years after the experiment, all patients confirmed that neither of them required any chemoradiotherapy or surgery after, or during the trial. There were no significant side effects reported during or after this trial. However, as the sample was so small, there can be no definitive answer the trial goes public. The picture-perfect results would need to be replicated in a larger scale experiment and longer follow-ups would need to be conducted to fully assess the response. Nonetheless, it is fair to say Dostarlimab is a monumental turning point in cancer research, promising a brighter future for cancer patients.
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