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Small trial discovers potential science of new rectal cancer drug | Science and Technology in-depth report | Deutsche Welle

Small trial discovers potential science of new rectal cancer drug | Science and Technology in-depth report | Deutsche Welle
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After receiving an experimental drug called dostarlimab in a small trial, all 12 participants experienced complete remission. Doctors say this is the first time such a cancer drug has achieved a 100 percent success rate in a clinical trial.

The results of the small study, conducted by researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The trial results were funded by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Cancer patients were given the drug intravenously every three weeks for six months.

Rectal Cancer Treatment Side Effects

During the follow-up period, which lasted an average of about a year, no patients experienced disease recurrence or required further treatment, the study said.

In addition, none of the 12 patients experienced serious side effects, one of the major problems with typical rectal cancer treatments.

Small trial discovers potential science of new rectal cancer drug | Science and Technology in-depth report | Deutsche Welle

Rare rectal cancers tested in trials often don’t respond well to chemotherapy, which could have life-changing effects on a person’s health

Although some people experienced a rash, dermatitis, fatigue, itching or nausea, none experienced the more serious complications common to rectal cancer treatment — side effects such as infertility, neuropathy or sexual dysfunction.

Colorectal cancer refers to colon and rectal cancer

Often, both colon and rectal cancers are classified as “colorectal cancer,” which is the third most common type of cancer in the world. But they are not the same thing.

Colon cancer describes the presence of cancer cells in the colon, while rectal cancer describes cancer in the rectum.

Rectal cancer is less common than colon cancer and more difficult to treat. Common symptoms include rectal bleeding, constipation, and abdominal pain.

If the disease is detected early, remission rates are high.

After rectal cancer is localized, the five-year survival rate is 90%. If it spreads a little bit, the rate goes down to 73%, and if it spreads a lot, it goes down to 17%.

Each patient in the recent study had a very specific type of rectal cancer called mismatch repair-deficient rectal adenocarcinoma.

This form of cancer is more difficult to cure than normal rectal cancer.

Mismatch repair-deficient rectal cancer is relatively uncommon — only 5 to 10 percent of people with rectal cancer develop it and don’t respond well to chemotherapy treatment.

Colon cancer graphic

Colorectal cancer is an umbrella term for two similar but not identical cancers. Both have a good prognosis if caught early.

How important is the dostarlimab cancer drug trial?

Dostarlimab is not a new drug — it is already used to treat endometrial cancer.

The drug is called a “checkpoint inhibitor,” which means that instead of killing cancer cells directly, it allows a person’s immune system to kill the cells on its own — so it’s considered a form of immunotherapy.

The results are “very optimistic,” Hannah Sanoff said in an editorial published in the same journal as the study’s findings. Sanoff is a cancer physician and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was not involved in the study.

The drug is not yet a substitute for any current treatment for this or any other form of cancer, Sanoff wrote.

Patients in the trial experienced what doctors call a “clinical complete response,” and their prognosis was better than patients who didn’t have a clinical complete response, but they could still see their cancer regenerate for years to come, Sarnoff wrote.

“Little is known to determine whether a clinical complete response to dostarlimab is equivalent to the duration of cure required,” Sanoff wrote.

person handing someone a prescription for medicine

It will take time to understand how widely immunotherapy can be used to treat various forms of cancer, but doctors and researchers are hopeful

It’s too early to call it a cancer treatment

Given that all patients had a particularly rare form of rectal cancer, it was unclear whether the trial’s results would apply to the more general population of rectal cancer patients, Sanoff noted.

The study’s authors also noted that the drug needs to be tested in more people before any conclusions can be drawn about its potential benefits as chemotherapy for rectal cancer.

“This study was small and representative of an institution’s experience,” the authors wrote in their paper, adding that more research on larger, racial and ethnic groups is needed before any decisions about potential treatments can be made. replicate findings in a diverse population. .

Given these caveats, the study provides only “an early glimpse into what could be a revolutionary therapeutic shift,” Sanoff wrote.

Editor: Zulfikar Abbany

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