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‘Off the charts’: the key breakthroughs giving new hope in treating cancer
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‘Off the charts’: the key breakthroughs giving new hope in treating cancer

At the 2024 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, the world’s largest cancer conference, doctors, scientists and researchers shared new findings on ways to tackle the disease.

The event in Chicago, attended by about 44,000 health professionals, featured more than 200 sessions focused on this year’s theme, The Art and Science of Cancer Care: From Comfort to Cure. Here is a roundup of the key studies.

NHS launches world-first cancer vaccine trial scheme

After decades in development, cancer vaccines now show signs of efficacy and potential to help patients fend off the disease for good.

The world’s first personalised mRNA cancer vaccine for melanoma halves the risk of patients dying or the disease returning, according to trial results doctors described as “extremely impressive”.

Patients who received the vaccine after having a stage 3 or 4 melanoma removed had a 49% lower risk of dying or the disease recurring after three years, data presented at the conference showed.

A second trial found cancer vaccines can significantly improve survival for breast cancer patients after surgery.

Meanwhile, with more vaccine trials launching globally, the NHS announced that thousands of patients in England will be fast-tracked into the studies as part of a world-first “matchmaking” scheme, called the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad.

Under the scheme, patients will gain immediate access to clinical trials for vaccines that experts say represent a new dawn of treatments for cancer.

Hodgkin lymphoma cured more effectively with treatment mix

Results from a phase 3 trial showed a treatment combination of six therapies, BrECADD, was more effective and caused fewer side effects than the standard chemotherapy regimen, BEACOPP.

After four years, progression-free survival (PFS), the amount of time patients live without the disease growing or spreading, was 94.3% for BrECADD and 90.9% for BEACOPP.

Overall survival, which indicates how many patients are alive after treatment, was 98.5% for BrECADD and 98.2% for BEACOPP. Most significantly, people in the BrECADD group had a 34% lower risk of disease progression than those in the BEACOPP group.

The most common side effects were abnormal blood cell counts. The researchers found that severe blood-related side effects arose in 31% of people in the BrECADD group and 52% of people in the BEACOPP group.

Tests predict prostate cancer risk and breast cancer recurrence more accurately

Delegates were briefed about two new tests aimed at providing an early warning sign for two of the world’s most common cancers.

The first, for prostate cancer, involves a DNA sample collected with a simple spit test. Trial results suggest it is more accurate than standard tests. It works by looking for genetic signals in the saliva that are linked to prostate cancer.

The second, a blood test, predicts the risk of breast cancer returning three years before tumours show up on scans. The breakthrough could help more women beat the disease permanently.

AI could help encourage people to undergo cancer screening

A study evaluating the use of an artificial intelligence (AI)-based patient navigation tool showed promise in helping patients in underserved communities schedule and receive cancer screening if they had missed or skipped previous appointments.

The study involved 2,400 patients at a cancer centre in the Bronx, New York, where most people were from ethnic minority communities and low-income households, and many were born outside the US. It used MyEleanor, a virtual patient navigation tool that initiated personalised, AI-based conversations with patients.

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More than half the patients (57%) engaged with MyEleanor. Of those who engaged, 58% accepted a transfer to a human patient navigator to reschedule a colonoscopy.

Researchers concluded that the tool could help reduce the bowel cancer disparities experienced by people in these communities.

Drugs melt bowel tumours, stop lung cancer advancing, stall breast cancer spread

Several drugs showed exciting results in fighting cancer. An immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, that “melts away” tumours dramatically increases the chances of curing some bowel cancers and may even replace the need for surgery, doctors said.

Giving the drug before surgery instead of chemotherapy led to a huge increase in patients being declared cancer-free, a clinical trial found.

Meanwhile, 60% of patients diagnosed with advanced forms of lung cancer who took lorlatinib were still alive five years later with no progression in their disease, data presented at the conference showed. The rate was 8% in patients treated with a standard drug, the trial found.

Doctors hailed the trial results as “off the chart”, saying the drug stopped lung cancer advancing for longer than any other treatment in medical history.

A third study found the drug Enhertu reduced the risk of cancer spreading in patients with HER2-low breast cancer by 38% compared with those who received chemotherapy.

Doctors also said weight-loss drugs offered a new weapon in the global fight against cancer, with “enormous potential” to prevent new cases and shrink tumours after research showed the jabs could cut the risk of developing the disease by a fifth.

Cancer survivors trying to conceive can successfully become pregnant and give birth

Early onset cancer was a key focus of discussion in Chicago. One study showed the rates of younger people developing the disease in the UK had risen 24% in two decades, a sharper increase than any other age group.

The trend has prompted a renewed interest in fertility: preserving the ability to become pregnant is often important for young people diagnosed with cancer. Certain treatments, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, can have a temporary or permanent impact on a person’s fertility.

Researchers looked at long-term pregnancy and birth outcomes for breast cancer survivors who attempted pregnancy after treatment. They found most patients (73%) who attempted to have a baby after treatment became pregnant at least once.

Source: theguardian.com