Breakthrough: New drug hailed ‘game changer’ for head and neck cancer

The new drug could revolutionize the treatment for different cancers and extend quality of life

A new immunotherapy drug has been hailed a major breakthrough in combatting head and neck cancer, a new study announced at the European Cancer Congress, revealed.

Nivolumab was found to be much more successful in treating head and neck cancer – a cancer with relatively poor survival rates in advanced cases – than alternative methods such as chemotherapy. A second clinical trial revealed patients with advanced kidney cancer who were taking nivolumab together with another medication had their tumors shrink significantly.

The first trial involved more than 350 patients. Out of those who underwent the treatment using nivolumab, 36 percent were still alive after one year compared to 17 percent who were only undergoing chemotherapy according to a BBC report.

A second trial involving 94 patients with advanced cancer of the kidney received a double dose of nivolumab and a second drug called ipilimumab. An astonishing 40 percent saw a significant shrinkage in the size of their tumors and one in ten had no sign of cancer after the full treatment.

“This trial found that it can greatly extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life,” explained Prof Kevin Harrington of the Institute of Cancer Research who led the research. “Once it has relapsed or spread, head and neck cancer is extremely difficult to treat. So it’s great news that these results indicate we now have a new treatment that can significantly extend life, and I’m keen to see it enter the clinic as soon as possible.”

Immunotherapy is a fairly new cancer treatment that uses cells from a person’s immune system to target and kill the cancer cells. Although rigorous, it is fast becoming a much more effective treatment for some forms of cancer.

Details of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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