Cancer drug outcome produces optimism for finding a possible cure

Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 6:16 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2022 at 6:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s the news reverberating worldwide and bringing new hope to people dealing with cancer. No, it’s not a cure. But maybe it is a major development in the ongoing fight.

This week New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center released the remarkable results of a six month experimental drug trial involving a group of 18 rectal cancer patients who were all cured in an unprecedented success story.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before in the history of oncology where every single patient who received this drug had a complete response, meaning the tumor completely disappeared, by (using) just the drug alone,” said Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The drug is called Dostarlimab, a monoclonal antibody approved for use last April that doesn’t attack cancer directly but works with your immune system.

“The patient’s immune system is already interested in fighting this cancer,” Cercek explained. “And when you give a checkpoint inhibitor like Dostarlimab it takes the brakes off the immune system, recruits a lot of immune cells, and starts fighting cancer. In this case, they fought it so well in every single patient that the cancer is completely gone.”

It’s way too early to know if this is truly a turning point in the fight against cancer but experts in the field are calling it astonishing news. However, they also point out that the study involved a tiny group that all shared a gene mutation that prevented cells from repairing damage to DNA.

“All these cases were early stage (cancers),” Cercek added. “This was the first time that this treatment was used on rectal cancer in the early stage and saw much more incredible responses that were much more profound than what we found in advanced disease.”

It’s not known how well the drug will work on other types of cancer, and more research will be required.

“What we hope to do is replicate these findings in other tumors such as stomach, pancreas, and bladder cancer,” Cercek said. “If it works, then we could potentially spare patients surgery and radiation in those tumors as well.”

“It really could dramatically affect the quality of life and survival of patients with rectal cancer,” added Dr. William Dahut, the Chief Scientific Officer with the American Cancer Society.

Those words were music to the ears of Dave Ledford and his wife Laura Wednesday as they visited Cox South Hospital in Springfield. The Ledfords, who have been together 42 years, closely follow the news because it could be their last hope.

Laura, the mother of two daughters, was diagnosed with rectal cancer three years ago.

“She went into remission, and then it just came back with a vengeance,” Dave said. “Now it’s spread into her lower body to the point where she can no longer walk. It’s been hell. All the pain and medications. She’s just not the same person, and it’s hard to see someone you love so much go through that.”

Now diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and given just six months to live, the word of a possible cancer breakthrough is a slim but hopeful light in an otherwise dark scenario.

“When we heard about it we thought it was the greatest thing in the world,” Dave said. “Sign us up! I know it’s still in the trial phase, but we’re willing to do anything at this point. It’s been three months since they told us she had six months to live, so we’re down to just a glimmer of light. But the light did come through. I hope this new product can help her. Everybody’s praying for her and I hope you guys will pray for her too.”

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