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Cancer Trial's Very Unexpected Result

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

Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr., an author of a paper published last weekend 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. She was scheduled to undergo weeks of radiation therapy for rectal cancer until receiving the phone call from oncologist Andrea Cercek. Dr. Cercek told Sascha, then 38, that her latest tests showed no evidence of cancer, after Sascha had undergone six months of immunotherapy treatment.

Patients with doctors Diaz and Cercek at MSK
Patients with doctors Diaz and Cercek | Credit:

"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 center's 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.' "

Patients, of course, were even more thrilled.



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