A small rectal cancer drug trial showed immensely promising results as every single participant saw full reduction of their tumors. Colorectal cancer, or cancer of the bowels, is the third most common form of the disease in men worldwide; and the second most common in women.
Typically, the treatment schedule for bowel cancer involves invasive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Treatment puts a tremendous burden on health systems worldwide given its frequency in both men and women.
The study, carried out at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June, followed 12 patients with a specific form of rectal cancer. Every trial participant received doses of new drug dostarlimab, which is developed by pharma company GlaxoSmithKline.
Patients took the drug every three to six months in addition to their regular chemo/radiation routines; but some patients did not need to continue with other therapies since the drug worked so well for them. At the end of their treatment, all 12 participants were found to be in remission and no trace of cancer was found on physical examination or scans.
Sometimes a stool sample helps doctors screen for bowel cancer
Each patient suffered from a similar mismatch repair deficient (MMRd) locally advanced rectal cancer. When mismatch repair genes are deficient, DNA mutations can take place and lead to tumors.
Dostarlimab is from a group of drugs called anti-programmed death-1 (anti-PD1) monoclonal antibodies. The drug aims to debilitate cancer cells’ defense mechanisms so they cannot protect themselves against the body’s immune system T-cells. The body can then take care of the disease, itself, without the help of blood poison — at least in theory.
Side effects were minimal for the trial participants, too. However, since researchers do not know how long the cancer will stay in remission, the drug cannot be touted as a “cure” yet. But any movement away from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (especially in young people) is a win for humanity, given the effects on fertility that traditional cancer treatments have on men and women alike. Bowel surgery also carries very serious risks, like the need for stoma bags afterwards.
Colorectal cancer is a type of disease in which cells of the colon or rectum grow out of control. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus, so any disruption in this system can lead to painful, embarrassing, and terribly inconvenient situations.
Doctors estimate that current rates of colon cancer will lead to 1.1 million annual deaths by 2030. Some common lifestyle choices that have been linked to colon cancer include obesity, alcohol intake, smoking, and low-fiber diets.