Monday, June 4, 2012

ASCO announcements

Every June, ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncologists) has their annual conference where all sorts of announcements are made on the latest advances in oncology and cancer treatments. The conference this year is going on right now, June 1-5 in Chicago. This is why the news is full of all sorts of 'exciting' cancer advances.

PD-1 is one of these announcements.

"Researchers gave the drug to nearly 240 patients with advanced melanoma, colorectal, prostate, kidney and lung cancers. All the patients had tried up to five other treatments, which failed. After up to two years on the drug, tumors shrank in 26 of 94 patients with melanoma, nine of 33 patients with kidney cancer and 14 of 76 patients with lung cancer.

The drug was not without side effects. About 14 percent of patients in the trial reported conditions such as skin rashes, diarrhea or breathing problems."

If you look at the numbers closely that is 27% of the melanoma patients, 27% of the kidney cancer patients, and 18% of the lung cancer patients. And 14% had side effects. So less than 1/3 of the people had success with this drug after running out of other options. But what happened to the 2/3 of the patients who didn't have success? Another treatment failed them.

But hidden in this, I do see a glimmer of hope. What made those 1/3 of the people different from the 2/3? Is there something in their genetic make up which made this successful? That's where I see hope.

Another note is that the rate in which kidney cancer reacted is significant in that normally the rate is around 7%. See this article for more explanation.

T-DM1 is another advancement. It was used to treat aggressive Her2 positive breast cancers. It was tested on a group of about 1000 women who were split into two groups so it was tested on about 500 women.

"Women getting T-DM1 had 9.6 months of progression-free survival, the time between starting the treatment and the cancer getting worse again, compared with 6.4 months in the standard therapy group. That's a median improvement of three months.

This may not seem like a long time, but as Dr. Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston explains, it means a lot to the individual patient.

"I've had patients on this drug for one, two, three years," he explained. Winer says that if a patient gets an additional three months before the tumors start growing again each time she goes through a treatment cycle, that can add up to almost a year.

Blackwell says that after two years, 65% of women getting T-DM1 were still alive, compared with 48% in the control group."

I would hope that today and tomorrow more advances will be announced that will expand on these and we will see more progress towards a cure.

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