A patient of Indian ancestry was among those who received a “miracle” cure from a cancer treatment being tested by a research centre here, attaining an unprecedented healing rate when all 14 patients in the experiment had their malignancies vanish.
Nisha Varughese described the immunotherapy drug’s success in treating her as “a miracle.”
“The rectal cancer disappeared after immunotherapy — without the need for the standard treatments of radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy — and the cancer has not returned in any of the patients, who have been cancer-free for up to two years,” according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Centre in New York.
This was the first time, according to researchers, that all of the patients in a cancer trial were entirely healed with a medicine and had no major side effects.
The trial’s findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting over the weekend.
It was described as “an early glimpse of a revolutionary treatment shift” in a Journal editorial.
“Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system as an ally against cancer,” MSK added.
It stated: “To keep immune cells from attacking normal cells, they have a safeguard called a checkpoint. Cancer cells can override this protection and disable immune cells, allowing a tumour to hide and develop.”
Immunotherapy employs a “checkpoint inhibitor,” which allows immune cells to recognise and target cancer cells, according to her.
Varughese described how she found out she was cancer-free: “I didn’t notice the tumour that day. So, where is the tumour, I wondered? Then it occurred to me that it might be hidden someplace inside. There is no longer any tumour, according to the doctor. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
“The immunotherapy shrunk the tumours more faster than I expected,” Andrea Cercek, a cancer doctor who led the trial, said.
Luis Diaz, a member of the White House National Cancer Advisory Board and the other researcher leading the trial, stated, “It’s a lot of fun. This is a huge step forward for patients, in my opinion.”
Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are usually used to treat rectal cancer. Cercek, on the other hand, stated, “The most fascinating aspect of this is that everyone of our patients required simply immunotherapy. We haven’t exposed anyone to radiation, and we haven’t subjected anyone to surgery.”
“Whether the outcomes of this small trial undertaken at the MSK Cancer Centre would be generalisable to a broader population of patients with rectal cancer is not known yet,” a cancer specialist, Hanna K Sanoff of the University of North Carolina, cautioned in a Journal editorial.
“Despite these difficulties,” she continued, “Cercek and colleagues, as well as those patients who agreed to forego normal treatment in exchange for a promising but unknown future with immunotherapy, have provided what could be an early glimpse of a revolutionary therapeutic shift.”