A new cancer treatment, an alternative to gruelling chemotherapy, is saving the lives of head and neck cancer patients
In a Phase Three trial, a new treatment appears to be working better than chemotherapy for head and neck cancer patients – creating a better chance at living longer than chemotherapy, which is infamously tough on the human body.
The immunotherapy combination, nivolumab and ipilimumab, created fewer side effects and appeared to help create a longer life expectancy.
A 77-year old man, Barry Ambrose, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. The cancer spread to his lungs, and he was told that there was nothing left to do but prepare.
However, a second hospital gave him the option to join the trial. Throughout his two-year stint, Barry was cleared of throat cancer entirely. To be clear, he accepted the immunotherapy, then he took chemotherapy and surgery – but this was previously thought to be medically impossible.
Talking about the new cancer treatment, he said: “When the research nurses called to tell me that, after two months, the tumour in my throat had completely disappeared, it was an amazing moment. While there was still disease in my lungs at that point, the effect was staggering.
“In fact, I was doing so well on the trial I was allowed to pause it in November 2018 to go on a Caribbean cruise with my wife.”
Does this mean that cancer outcomes will change?
Currently, the findings are not considered to be “statistically significant”. More work needs to be done and the research team are excited about the possibilities of their discovery.
Also, the cancer outcomes of the world are currently reeling from COVID-related disruption. Around one in seven major cancer operations did not go ahead, globally.
Professor Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Our trial shows the immunotherapy combination achieved the longest median overall survival ever seen in patients with relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer. Despite the lack of statistical significance, these results are clinically meaningful.
“We will need to do longer follow-up to see whether we can demonstrate a survival benefit across all patients in the trial.”
Life expectancies went up by three months
It was found that patients who got the immunotherapy combination lived an average of three months longer than those who were treated with Extreme chemotherapy. The median overall survival rates for patients trying the new cancer treatment was 17.6 months, which is the highest ever reported in this group.
Immunotherapy is also a much kinder treatment option than Extreme chemotherapy, which comes along side effects such as nausea, pain, appetite loss, tiredness and breathing problems – things that significantly decrease quality of life.
Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Immunotherapies are kinder, smarter treatments that can bring significant benefits to patients with advanced head and neck cancer – for example, by sparing them some of the difficult side effects of chemotherapy.
“These are promising results and demonstrate how we can better select the patients who are most likely to benefit from immunotherapy treatment.”