June 7th, 2010
05:01 PM ET

Progress against cancer reported on multiple fronts

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Since Saturday, about 30,000 of the world’s top cancer experts have been in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, the largest conference of the year on cancer care and treatment. Researchers are presenting more than 4,000 different studies – some very small and preliminary; some large and probably practice-changing. Here a few that could have an impact on how patients will be treated in the future.

Lung cancer: Researchers have found that patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer may benefit from a new experimental drug if their tumors have a specific chromosome re-arrangement.

The drug is called Crizotinib, and it targets the genetic alteration of the so-called “ALK” gene in a cancer cell. About 5 percent of lung cancer patients have this genetic malfunction and most of them are former smokers or never smoked at all according to ASCO.

Early research found that patients with this genetic alteration benefited from Crizotonib. If larger studies validate these early results, 10,000 lung cancer patients could be helped with this drug, says Dr. Mark Kris, the cchief of thoracic oncology at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York and an ASCO spokesman.

“People with lung cancer need hope,” Kris says, because there is very little for them when the cancer is advanced. He says what’s exciting about this research is that doctors can test for this mutation. If their patients have it, the drug will work. If the they don’t have this particular mutation, they can be spared the cost of the drug and more importantly not waste time trying to drug that won’t help them.

Breast cancer: A new drug made from a sea sponge (called Halichondria okadai) may help women with advanced breast cancer who have already undergone multiple treatments.

According to the Dr. Christopher Twelves, lead author of the study, 50 percent of women with breast cancer will have their cancer come back or spread, and for them, there’s no good cure.

This new chemo drug was found to extend median overall survival of women by two and a half months compared with other possible treatments. Twelves says Eribulin is the only single drug therapy to show overall survival in these “heavily pretreated” women with breast cancer that has spread (compared with all the existing chemotherapy, hormone or endocrine treatments) and therefore may become the recommended treatment for these patients.

ASCO president and breast cancer expert Dr. Douglas Blaney believes this new chemotherapy drug could become the standard treatment for any woman with advanced breast cancer.

Melanoma (skin cancer): A new drug that helps melanoma patients live longer by enlisting their own immune system in the cancer battle.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma accounts for only 5 percent of skin cancers, but it causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. Once the cancer has spread, patients have few treatment options.

Now a new drug called ipilimumab causes the patients immune system to fight the cancer by telling the white blood cells called T-cells in the body to attack the cancer rather than giving the patient a drug that attacks tumors. Patients given this new drug had improved survival by almost four months.

Dr. Steven O’Day, who presented the research at ASCO, says no prior large randomized trial in melanoma has been able to demonstrate an improved survival in this type of cancer.

In patients who were given ipilimumab the average survival improvement was almost four months, which O’Day calls “highly significant.” “This important because this is a disease where the average survival in these patients is six to nine months, so to increase on average the survival by an additional four months is a very large difference.”

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Tony

    Darth Vader is probably based on the principal at the elementary school where George Lucas was a student. Do we really have this much time on our hands?

    June 7, 2010 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Irv August

    I was a heavy smoker for many years and was diagnosed with bladder cancer in June of 1989.

    The cancer was excised and I underwent all the required checkups over the following years.

    In 2002, the cancer returned and I was treated again with surgery and BCG ( Live Tuberculosis virus).

    The cancer returned again in 2007 and was found to have spread to the collector cup of the left kidney.

    Treatment again with BCG and finally my doctor told me he could do
    no more for me and referred me to the Oregon Health Science facility in Portland, Or.

    The doctor there also initally treated me with BCG and in early 2009
    he added a substance called Interferon.

    The cancer now appears to be in remission.

    One problem results from the BCG treatment. I wasn't aware of it until afterwards. The BCG shrinks the bladder and inhibits the body's
    ability to retain urine.

    So, I am now somewhat incontinent and go thru a lot of Depends and underwear, but I am still alive and kicking.

    Anyone with this type of cancer, particularly if it is found before there is
    blood in the urine, may want to discuss this treatment with there doctor.

    June 7, 2010 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bill

    My sister died from lung cancer. I did all I could to get her to stop smoking but after forty years her addiction won out.

    It is good to see advances made in treating cancer. It saddens me that she is not alive to try these new drugs. But, others will benefit.

    The main task for all of us is to lead a lifestyle that lengthens ones life instead of shortening it by not smoking, being sedentary and obese, eating little vegetables/fruits, drinking too much alcohol etc.

    My sister knew she should not have smoked and weighed so much but like most people it is very difficult to change the way one lives. People want to believe that in spite of smoking, weight gain etc, they will still live to be 90. For 99.9% of people it doesn't work that way.

    June 8, 2010 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Glorifundel

    "About 5 percent of lung cancer patients have this genetic malfunction and most of them are former smokers or never smoked at all according to ASCO."

    Most of them are former smokers, or never smoked. Isn't that akin to saying "most of them have had pancakes, or never had pancakes" which is essentially everyone.

    June 8, 2010 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • april

      Lol, well maybe some are still smokers. My father smoke all his life, lighting one of the last one. He lived almost 20 years with emphysema. Everytime he ended up in the hospital, he'd say the drs keep trying to give him cancer, but he never got lung or any other kind. I really believe if one doesn't have the gene, then they don't get lung cancer from smoking, formerly smoking, or never having smoked...

      June 29, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
  5. Polo789

    I had to read that a couple of times too, but I think the group that this cancer does not apply to, are people who are diagnosed while they are still smoker.

    June 8, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cliff

    I am now five years "out" from my stage-4 cancer surgery.
    The area was my neck/throat/shoulder.
    The surgeon told me he performs "almost as many" of this type of surgery on non-smokers as thos who smoke!
    Regardless, I think MOST have learned that cancer cures smoking!

    June 8, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tom Zangas

    Hey Tom,
    Some news you may be interested in. Love ya!

    June 8, 2010 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shirley Brandon

      i didn't know you had a cancer but it happened. I miss you and i love you.

      September 25, 2011 at 16:40 | Report abuse |
  8. Karen

    This is certainly welcome news. I do have a question regarding the findings for breast cancer. The author specifically mentions women. Is there a reason men are left out of the equation? Is the treatment not viable for men, or is the author ignorant to the fact that men also suffer from this form of cancer?


    June 8, 2010 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mae

    This is all fantastic news!

    Now maybe all of this new information can help with childhood cancer. I have a 13 month old son who has been fighting cancer since he was born, he was diagnosed at 3 months old, he's doing well today, and keeps fighting!

    Would love to see more research and media coverage of Childhood cancer, it's just as important as breast, lung, skin, colon etc etc. All cancer's need lots of research.

    I am happy to see this research though! I know so many people who have been touched by cancer, we just recently participated in Relay For Life in our area not only for our son, but for so many family and friends!!

    Let's find a cure for the children too! No more children need to die, they are after all, our future!


    June 8, 2010 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. james k

    hopefully, they in chicago are also talking about the nano knife treatment which has the potential to be breakthrough cancer treatment.

    June 8, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. cliff

    I am curious about any experience(s) you might have had with the ACS.
    My "nearest chapter" must be the worst-run in their entire system.

    I was also surprised when my surgeon, radition physician and my chemo doctor never referred me to them.

    Too late now but I understand their are some financial assistance programs for which I would have qualified.

    Just had a CAT Scan and will follow up next week with my surgeon to make sure "it" is still inactive.

    I don't know about those of you who have experienced the big "C" but i have found the mental part as bad, if not worse, than surgery, radiation and chemo!

    June 8, 2010 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. king909

    Anybody doing cancer research or treatment is very aware of the existence and lethality of BC in males. These are early studies where the treatment groups will be small and very tightly defined.

    June 9, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bailey Jenkins

    melanoma is quite dangerous, so make sure that you get early detection or early treatment'"*

    July 26, 2010 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Isaac Harrison

    you can reduce the risk of skin cancer buy using sunblocks if you are going to get prolonged exposure to the sun *"

    July 29, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kayla Hernandez

    melanoma is deadly but is is often hard to get that disease too';~

    September 12, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Morgan Palmer

    skin cancer is rarer than colon cancer but just as deadly'*,

    September 28, 2010 at 00:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Polyethylene :

    melanoma as just as deadly as the common forms of cancer-;-

    October 24, 2010 at 05:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Towel Rails

    melanoma can really kill people in such a very short time specially if the immune system is compromised '.'

    December 14, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Great read, since my aunt died 2 years ago for bladder cancer Im running campaign for bcg bladder cancer treatment. If anybody would like to know more about BCG bladder cancer treatment please
    visit site BCG bladder cancer

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    Every visit helps bladder cancer treatment research BCG bladder cancer – THANK YOU !

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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