A Cancer Trial's Unexpected Result: Remission In EVERY Patient

June 6, 2022

In a small study conducted at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York, all participants saw their tumors disappear using immunotherapy without surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

MSK immunotherapy
Patients with doctors Diaz and Cercek / Credit: mskcc.org

Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr., an author of a paper published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the results, said he knew of no other study in which a treatment completely obliterated a cancer in every patient.

"I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer," Dr. Diaz said.

Sascha Roth was the first patient in the clinical trial involving immunotherapy at MSK. She was scheduled to undergo weeks of radiation therapy for rectal cancer until receiving the phone call from oncologist Andrea Cercek at MSK.

Dr. Cercek told Sascha, then 38, that her latest tests showed no evidence of cancer, after Sascha had undergone six months of immunotherapy treatment.

"Dr. Cercek told me a team of doctors examined my tests," recalled Sascha. "And since they couldn't find any signs of cancer, Dr. Cercek said there was no reason to make me endure radiation therapy."

The same result was repeated for all 12 patients — and counting — in the MSK clinical trial for rectal cancer.

In every case, the rectal cancer disappeared after immunotherapy — without the need for the standard treatments of radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy — and the cancer has not returned in any of the patients, who have been cancer-free for up to two years.

"It's incredibly rewarding," says Dr. Cercek, "to get these happy tears and happy emails from the patients in this study who finish treatment and realize, 'Oh my God, I get to keep all my normal body functions that I feared I might lose to radiation or surgery.' "

"The first patient had a complete response to therapy and didn't need anything else. Then the second patient didn't need surgery or radiation. Then the third. Pretty soon we're at the 10th patient that had a complete response. That is incredible," Dr. Diaz said.

Patients, of course, were even more thrilled.

"One young man and his family just sat in stunned silence when I told them his cancer had disappeared," recalls Dr. Cercek. "Then they thanked us over and over." She continues, "A young woman looked at the screen during an examination and asked, 'Where is the tumor?' 'It's gone,' we told her."

As MSK's rectal cancer trial continues, Dr. Diaz says he hopes "it's the tip of the iceberg."

"We are investigating if this same method may help other cancers where the treatments are often life-altering and tumors can be MMRd. We are currently enrolling patients with gastric (stomach), prostate, and pancreatic cancers," he said.

Sources: MSKCC.org | Study: NEJM.org

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