Oncologists name biggest advance in cancer treatment in 2016 report

WASHINGTON — The nation’s oncologists have issued their annual report on their progress in the fight against cancer, and they say the biggest advance in recent years has been the growth of immunotherapy.

In their 2016 report, The American Society of Clinical Oncologists indicate this relatively new technique has the ability to revolutionize cancer treatment.

“I think the widened applicability of immunotherapy made us feel it is time to designate it as the advance of the year,” says Dr. Don Dizon of Massachusetts General Hospital, a co-editor of the report.

The first cancer immunotherapy drug was first approved in 2011 as a way to treat advanced melanoma. Last year, immunotherapy was approved for some forms of lung cancer as well.

At the same time, clinical trials began to show its effectiveness as a weapon against liver, kidney and bladder cancer, as well as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The premise behind this form of treatment is simple: find a way for the immune system to detect and kill cancer cells.

Because cancer is the body’s own cells gone awry, the immune system does not see these cells as foreign. Immunotherapy tricks the immune system into attacking cancer as an invader — like a virus or a bacterial infection.

It’s not a cure — not yet — but in some patients Dizon says the response to immunotherapy has been remarkable.

“For many folks who are diagnosed with advanced or even metastatic disease, we are not talking about cure — we are talking about a long and durable remissions,” he says.

He says at some point in the future, immunotherapy may enable modern medicine to treat cancer as a chronic condition, much like diabetes, with many patients in ongoing treatment able “to live the life they want to live.”

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