Tumours disappear in all participants of small cancer drug trial

Colorectal cancer, or bowel cancer, is the third most common cancer worldwide; the third most common in men and the second most common in women.

Now a small rectal cancer drug trial, carried out in the United States, has shown extremely promising results: tumours were found to have disappeared in 100 percent of participants.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum grow out of control. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

The symptoms of CRC include:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit
  • Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in stools
  • Unexplained weight loss or tiredness
  • Unexplained abdominal pain
  • Any new lumps, swelling or masses in the abdomen

Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should speak with a healthcare professional. It may not be anything serious, but if it is cancer, finding it early dramatically improves the chances of getting better.

There were more than 1.9 million new cases of CRC in 2020. The global burden of CRC is expected to increase by 60 percent to more than 2.2 million new cases and 1.1 million deaths by 2030.

The treatment for those diagnosed with colorectal cancer usually involves:

  • Surgery: the cancerous segment of the bowel is cut out; this is the most effective way of curing bowel cancer
  • Chemotherapy: medicines to kill cancer cells
  • Radiotherapy: using radiation to kill cancer cells

Due to the sheer numbers being diagnosed with this disease globally, and the burden it puts on patients and healthcare systems, we urgently need new effective and safe treatments to be made available.

What does the new research show?

Scientists and healthcare professionals are excited by the new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June. The study, carried out at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, followed 12 patients who had a specific form of rectal cancer and were given the new drug, dostarlimab, developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The drug was given to the patients every three to six months at a cost of $11,000 for each dose. Some of the participants also had standard chemo/radiotherapy and surgery, but for those who responded well to the drug, this step could be skipped.

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