NEW YORK — One small cancer study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine showed researchers results practically unheard of in the medical world: complete remission in every single patient.
In fact, one author of the report said he hasn't heard of any other study in which a treatment completely obliterated a cancer in every person who received it.
The study tested a programmed death 1 (PD-1) blocking immunotherapy drug known as dostarlimab for the treatment of a certain type of locally-advanced rectal cancer.
It's important to note that the study was only based on 12 patients, so while the results are certainly promising, we can't jump to conclusions about its potential widespread effects.
During the study, the 12 patients received the immunotherapy drug every three weeks for six months. The plan was to follow up with chemoradiotherapy and surgery but, surprisingly, the standard treatment wasn't needed.
Every single person in the study "had a clinical complete response," the study said. This meant there was no evidence of cancerous tumors detected in a number of lab tests, including magnetic resonance imaging, endoscopic evaluation, digital rectal examination or biopsy.
In an editorial accompanying the study, researchers called the results "cause for great optimism" but concluded that the immunotherapy drug can't yet replace the current treatment approach of chemotherapy and surgery.
That is until a longer and more widespread study can be done to look at the duration of the response.
Still, there were a lot of "happy tears and happy emails," Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a co-author of the study, wrote.
As doctors explain, current treatment is grueling and can cause long-term effects like neuropathy, infertility, and bowel and sexual dysfunction. A non-operative immunotherapy treatment "opens the door for a paradigm-shifting way to mitigate some of the long-term consequences," the report says.