I’m going to guess you missed it. Or, if you didn’t, you didn’t think much about it. I’m talking about a media report released in mid-June of this year that covered a research study done at Memorial Sloane Kettering (MSK). As usual, the media release occurred before the study’s publication, which occurred on June 23, 2022 (in the New England Journal of Medicine). The study involved a new treatment stratagem for patients with advanced colorectal cancers. In this small study involving a new treatment modality, all 12 patients were cured. Yes, I said cured. Not in remission. The cancers were not suppressed but gone, undetectable, vanished, AMF. This should have been front page news, but it wasn’t. Let’s look at why it wasn’t.
The traditional, and long-standing, non-surgical approach to cancer treatment is based on the fact that cancer cells divide faster than the rest of the cells in the body, except for cells in the gastrointestinal and neurological systems, which also replicate rapidly. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments target these rapidly dividing cells by interfering in their DNA replication process, which passes DNA down to subsequent generations of cells. If the cells cannot pass uncorrupted DNA down to their successors, those successors cannot be created. Unfortunately, because the cells in the GI and neurological systems turn over rapidly, it is in those areas where side effects occur. Side effects may include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss. Surgical treatments of colorectal tumors and other tumors that are located deep in the abdomen/pelvis can result in colostomies and bowel, urinary, or sexual dysfunction.
Up to now, the goal of cancer treatment has been to increase survival time and thus allow the patient to stay alive longer. Remissions, while often rare, do occur. Complete cures are rarer still. In general, oncology has made great strides. Remission rates, like survival time, have been improving. Cancer treatment is big business, however. The cost of new treatments and chemotherapy agents is astronomical and pharmaceutical firms are making huge profits. There has been a shift away from traditional chemo agents toward biological agents and antibody treatments that enhance the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. Great strides are being made. But just imagine what would happen if all of a sudden a new agent appeared that was so successful that it made all previous (highly profitable) therapies obsolete overnight.
Please understand – I am not saying that is what happened in this study, but it is a possibility. Researchers at MSK took 12 patients with the same advanced rectal cancer and gave them a new biological agent, an antibody designed to attack the cancer and enhance the body’s own immune system response to the tumor. The study plan included giving the patients standard chemotherapy and surgery after six months of treatment with the antibody (one treatment every three weeks). After six months, the study team evaluated the 12 patients in preparation of starting standard chemo. But the study was stopped because all 12 cancers were completely gone – plans for chemo and surgery were scrapped. And all 12 patients tolerated the treatments with minimal side effects. It just might be that we have entered a new age of cancer treatment.
By Peter Galvin, MGBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS