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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little