According to a new American study published on June 5, 2022 in the New England Journal of Medicine, twelve patients with rectal cancer went into remission after participating in a clinical trial. During the latter, the research team instructed them to take dostarlimab, “an immunotherapy drug used in the treatment of endometrial cancer”for six months, reports The Independent.
Six months after stopping taking this drug, the cancer was gone: it was undetectable by physical exam, endoscopy, PET scan, and even MRI.
“This is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer”, told the New York Times Dr. Luis Diaz, one of the study’s lead authors, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The study also indicates that patients reported no side effects during the six months of intake.
“These drugs don’t work by directly attacking the cancer itself, but instead getting a person’s immune system to do most of the work,” explains to NPR Dr. Hanna Sanoff of the University of North Carolina, also an oncologist. “These are treatments that have been around for a long time for melanoma and other cancers.”
A “limited but fascinating” study
While these results are encouraging, the scientists behind the study point out that the number of patients who participated in it is currently far too low to draw definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of the treatment.
Certainly, two years after the initial phase, the participants still seem in good health. But it is still necessary to monitor their condition over time to ensure that the cancer has completely disappeared.
“These results are a source of great optimism”writes Dr. Hanna Sanoff in an article shared in addition to the study. “This research has provided what may be the first glimpse of a breakthrough treatment.” The specialist, who was not involved in this clinical trial, assures that although “restraint”the study remains “fascinating”.
However, like the scientists who carried out this work, the oncologist calls for the greatest vigilance in interpreting the results, specifying that a “such an approach cannot yet supplant our current approach to curative treatment”.