Editorial: Cancer immunotherapy offers real hopes of a cure

It seems clear that a corner has been turned

Share

Cancer will directly affect about one in three of us at some time in our lives. Many more will be touched indirectly as friends and relatives are lost to this devastating collection of often lethal diseases. For years, the only serious treatments for cancer have been surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – slicing, burning and poisoning as some doctors put it. The side effects of such treatments are often worse than the disease itself because of the collateral damage inflicted on the healthy cells of the body.

The prospect of a “paradigm shift” in cancer treatment could hardly be more welcome, then. The hope comes from “immunotherapy”, where the immune system that normally protects us against invading viruses and microbes is stimulated to attack a spreading tumour.

Cancer specialists are cautiously optimistic that immunotherapy could open a new front in the now infamous “war on cancer” declared as long ago as 1971, when President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, and revitalised in 2009 with President Obama urging scientists to find a “cure for cancer in our time”.

In making cancer immunotherapy its breakthrough of the year,  the journal Science emphasises that it does not want to give patients false hope – given the field’s long history of expectations raised and then dashed. But at the same time, the journal makes it clear that a corner has been turned.

As with many medical breakthroughs, however, it may be years yet before patients see real benefits from immunotherapy. And some types of cancer may not respond at all to the treatments we can expect in the coming decade.

Early results from the first clinical trials involving artificial antibodies are promising, but hardly a cause for jubilation. The lives of most patients in the trials seem to have been extended by just a few months – a significant, but still only incremental improvement.

There is also always the risk of drug resistance. Tumours are complex communities of genetically diverse cells that can rapidly evolve to form breakaway rebels resistant to any new drug or treatment.

Even so, there is an inescapable logic to an attempt to use the body’s own defence system to attack tumour cells. Cancer immunotherapy is a technique which holds out much promise. We can only hope that it is fulfilled.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?