Jun 2, 2015

Cure for cancer one step closer after 'spectacular' breakthrough

In an international trial of 945 patients, treatment with the drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab stopped the cancer advancing for nearly a year in 58% of cases. This was compared with 19% of cases for ipilimumab alone, which resulted in tumours stabilising or shrinking for an average of two and a half months.

The treatment, known as immunotherapy, uses the body's immune system to attack cancerous cells. Researchers say it could replace chemotherapy as the standard treatment for cancer within five years.

The findings, revealed at the at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, andpublished in the New England Journal of Medicine, could save tens of thousands of lives in the UK alone within a decade, doctors say. Patients who could expect to live for just a matter of months under existing treatments, could see their tumours completely destroyed and go on to enjoy a normal lifespan under the new treatment.

A series of studies show that the drugs are effective against some of the most deadly tumours, including those of the lung, bowel, liver and head.

Roy Herbst , chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Centre, described the results as "spectacular". "I think it's huge," he said. "I think we are seeing a paradigm shift in the way oncology is being treated.

"The potential for long-term survival, effective cure, is definitely there," he added.

Dr James Larkin, a consultant at the Royal Marsden hospital and one of the UK's lead investigators, explained to the BBC how the treatment works. "By giving these drugs together you are effectively taking two brakes off the immune system rather than one, so the immune system is able to recognise tumours it wasn't previously recognising and react to that and destroy them."

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