A small drug trial is offering the potential of a major impact in the fight against cancer.
The 18 rectal cancer patients involved in the study experienced something of a medical miracle after their cancer disappeared without chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
Those patients took an immunotherapy drug called Dostarlimab for about six months.
All of them had a rare sub-type of rectal cancer and were either stage 2 or 3.
Oncology doctors say these kinds of results have never been seen in the history of cancer research.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston are researching different ways to make the most common type of colorectal cancer responsive to immunotherapy drugs.
“I think the challenge in the field is getting immunotherapy to be effective in the vast majority of patients with colorectal cancer who do not have this rare subtype,” said Dr. Kimmie Ng, co-director at the colon and rectal center at Dana-Farber.
Dr. Ng told Boston 25 News her team is looking at drugs similar to Dostarlimab and trying to combine it with other novel agents and drugs.
“That is really a remarkable result, and it’s definitely encouraging,” explained Dr. Ng. “We definitely need larger studies and a longer follow up time.”
The prospect of treating certain types of cancer without chemotherapy, radiation and surgery is a game changer.
“The radiation and surgery part can lead to devastating long term effects, such as infertility, sexual dysfunction, bowel dysfunction,” said Dr. Ng.
In recent decades, the rate of colorectal cancer has been rising in young people under the age of 50.
Dana-Farber launched the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center in response to the concerning trend.
“It is currently unknown what is driving this alarming rise in young onset colorectal cancer,” she added.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently changed their guidelines, encouraging colorectal cancer screening at age 45 instead of 50 for individuals at average risk.
The guidelines are different for people with a first degree relative who has had colorectal cancer or even an advanced polyp.
People in that category are encouraged to start screening at an age ten years younger than the age at which their family member was diagnosed.