Promising New Approach To Treating Cancer Means Hope For Many, But Remember This Is Just The Start Of The Journey

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Promising New Approach To Treating Cancer Means Hope For Many, But Remember This Is Just The Start Of The Journey

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Promising New Approach To Treating Cancer Means Hope For Many - blog from @DrLen
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 1:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Dr. Len's Cancer Blog


Every year at this time cancer specialists and researchers from around the world descend on Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to hear the latest breakthroughs in cancer research and treatment.

By Dr. Len


Through all the fog of all the information--which is impossible for any one individual to evaluate much less comprehend--there is always the search for the "buzz," or the next "big thing" that will make a huge impact on cancer treatment and the lives of the patients we care for and the people we love who are affected by cancer.

This year, it is apparent already that one of this year's "big things" are the reports of new success in an old and ongoing effort to harness the body's own defense mechanisms to fight cancer. And--being the skeptic that I can be at times--I will throw my hat in the ring that maybe this is going to be one of those events that truly will impact cancer care. But despite the enthusiasm, we must always temper our expectations with reality and lessons we have learned from the past that early success doesn't always tell us the whole story.

Without going into great detail here, the reality is that in early stage trials an antibody drug now called "BMS-936558"produced significant responses in a number of patients who had certain advanced cancers and had failed multiple prior treatments. In these studies, patients with melanoma, kidney cancer and non-small cell lung cancer showed responses to this new drug and some of those responses lasted for over a year.

When you see these kinds of results in cancers that are ordinarily difficult to treat, and in patients who have failed multiple other therapies, that becomes news.

How these drugs work is very difficult to understand much less explain, even for people like me.

We have struggled for years to understand how cancer cells escape our body's built in defense mechanisms against "foreign invaders."

Basically, we have immune surveillance cells in our bodies that are called T cells. These T cells have the responsibility to patrol our bodies and detect cells that are "different" and initiate processes to destroy those cells. Think of viruses like the common cold: we get infected, our bodies recognize the infection, we automatically mount a defensive reaction against the virus and we get better. Of course, there are viruses that escape that surveillance for one reason or another, perhaps because a person is older, or weakened from an illness, or because the virus has built in ways to escape the surveillance process, as happens with AIDS. But many, many more times than not, the body wins the battle and the virus is defeated.


Read More Here.