Monday, February 07, 2011

New thinking about cancer


A friend’s sister recently died of brain cancer. Way before her time. She was trying to get into a study at Duke but didn’t live long enough.

Researchers there, paired with those at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, are working on a vaccine for glioblastoma, the most deadly form of brain cancer.

A third of these cancers are fueled by an aggressive cancer genes Called EGFRvIII. Before we get too deep in the weeds here, suffice it to say as one researcher did—these are the worst of the worst.

The work being done involves a vaccine. A cancer vaccine. The study (J Clin Oncology) involved 18 patients newly diagnosed with this cancer and a set of 17 matched patients as controls. Both groups received surgery, radiation, and chemo. The vaccine group began receiving injections one month after radiation and stayed on it as long as it appeared to be working.

Median survival time wwent from the expected 15 months to 26 months in the vaccine group. Progression-free time was also 14.2 mos for the vaccine group, 6.3 months for the controls.

Cancer vaccines of several sorts are being tested these days. Basically they get the body to fight the cancer cells and kill them.

This is a small study. But it does highlight new approaches being explored—in addition to cutting, burning and poisoning the forms of this fearsome disease. Another set of ideas involves getting the body to cut off the blood supply of tumors. Matching therapies to individual genes of the patient is also being done.

My feeling is that in 10 years, what we do now will be considered primitive.

The patients in these studies (note that some did not get the vaccine)--and the tireless researchers--are the warriors of the new frontier.

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