Administration of an experimental drug called Dostarlimab appears to have achieved a complete remission of rectal cancer in all patients in a small study.
Much of the scientific and media sphere was revolutionized after learning of this finding, however, experts said that the news should be taken with caution and that it is necessary to repeat the results.
The new work, published June 5 in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), was led by a team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
According to the authors, after treatment with Dostarlimab for six months, the cancer disappeared in all patients and could not be detected by physical examinations, endoscopy, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and MRI.
All 12 study participants had tumors with a genetic mutation known as mismatch repair deficiency (MMRd), which is seen in approximately 5% to 10% of rectal cancer patients. People with such tumors tend to respond less well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments, increasing the need for surgical removal.
Two years into the study, the participants appear to be cancer-free, and none received chemoradiation therapy or surgery.
“I think this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Luis Alberto Diaz Jr., one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times. This promising result was also accompanied by the fact that patients did not experience any significant side effects during treatment.
Although this news has been classified as “unprecedented” “unprecedented” or “historic”, specialists stress that it will be necessary to repeat these results and warn that it should not be concluded that cancer has been permanently eradicated.
Other points to note are that the size of the study was very small (only 12 people), and that the research was sponsored by the company GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturer of the drug.
The NEJM article is accompanied by an editorial by Hanna K. Sanoff of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, explaining that little is known about the length of time needed to find out if a complete clinical response to Dostarlimab is equivalent to a cure. Sanoff was not involved in the study.
What is Dostarlimab?
Dostarlimab is an immune checkpoint inhibitor used in the treatment of endometrial cancer. The one published in NEJM was the first clinical investigation that analyzed its effectiveness against rectal cancer.
The drug works by exposing cancer cells, allowing the immune system to identify and destroy them. Each dose of Dostarlimab, which was given every three weeks for six months, cost $11,000.
It is estimated that one in five patients have some adverse reaction to immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing and chewing. However, the patients given Dostarlimab did not experience any significant side effects.
Can we prevent cancer?
Our body constantly renews its cells to replace those that age or die. In some cases, this process is affected and produces “immortal” cells that accumulate in the tissues, giving rise to the appearance of tumors.
These can be benign (not cancer) or malignant. In the latter case, the damaged cells can spread throughout the body and invade other tissues, a phenomenon known as metastasis. Therefore, cancer is not a single disease, but many.
While not all cancers can be prevented, there are habits that can help reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals.
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Limit the intake of ultra-processed products, roast meats and alcoholic beverages.
- No Smoking.
- Get regular physical activity.
Regular screening for various types of cancer, such as skin, colon, cervical, or breast cancer, is also very important, as this can increase the chances of finding the cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, The New York Times.