ASCO Names Advance of the Year: Cancer Immunotherapy

At a Capitol Hill briefing today, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) announced immunotherapy as the top cancer advance of the year. Recent breakthroughs in immunotherapy – along with almost 60 other important cancer research advances – are described in ASCO’s just-released report, Clinical Cancer Advances 2016: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer. ASCO’s report also calls for sustained robust federal funding for cancer research, asserting its pivotal role in driving progress.

“ ‘No recent cancer advance has been more transformative than immunotherapy. These new therapies are not only transforming patient lives, they are also opening intriguing avenues for further research,’ said ASCO President Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO. ‘Advances like these require bold ideas, dedication and investment in research. If we are to conquer cancer, we need to invest more as a nation to support a strong biomedical research enterprise.’ “


Shoddy Biopsies Deny Cancer Patients a Shot at Personalized Treatment

“A huge federal trial of personalized cancer medicine has run into an unexpected roadblock: Many of the tumor samples aren’t robust enough to be put through genetic analysis.

“The samples, taken from patients with advanced cancer, were collected by doctors in hundreds of clinics nationwide. When researchers checked them, they found as many as 1 in 5 didn’t have enough malignant cells to analyze, in most cases because the biopsy had been poorly done.

“The glitch raises troubling questions about the new era of precision medicine.”


Video: Dr. Barbara Burtness on the Psychology of Talking to Patients About Enrolling in Clinical Trials

“Barbara Burtness, MD, professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology), Clinical Research Program Leader, Head and Neck Cancers Program, co-director, Developmental Therapeutics Research Program, Yale Cancer Center, discusses the psychology of talking to patients about being involved in a clinical trial.

“Burtness says on average, medical professionals should take about 4 minutes or longer to properly explain the clinical trial to their patients, as well as leave ample time for questions at the end of the conversation. She adds that patients should understand what the differences are between conventional therapies and investigational therapies are.”

Click through to watch the video.


Case for Testing Cancer in Blood Builds, One Study at a Time

“Two new studies published on Wednesday of patients with breast and prostate cancers add to growing evidence that detecting bits of cancer DNA circulating in the blood can guide patient treatment.

“Enthusiasm is building for ‘liquid biopsies,’ which offer a non-invasive alternative to standard tissue biopsies and are expected to be a multibillion-dollar market.

“But a key question remains: Do they really work?

“The stakes are high. At least 38 companies are working on liquid biopsies for cancer, according to analysts at investment bank PiperJaffray, who think the U.S. market alone could eventually reach $29 billion a year.”


ASCO Updates Guidelines for Antiemetics During Chemo

“For patients receiving chemotherapy, the use of the oral combination of netupitant (a neurokinin 1 receptor antagonist) and palonosetron (a 5-hydroxytryptamine-3 receptor antagonist) is beneficial for prevention of acute and delayed nausea and vomiting, according to a focused guideline update published online Nov. 2 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“Paul J. Hesketh, M.D., from the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., and colleagues conducted a targeted systematic literature review to update guidelines on use of the oral combination of netupitant and palonosetron for prevention of acute and delayed nausea and vomiting among patients receiving chemotherapy.”


Healthy People Can Now Order a $299 'Liquid Biopsy' Blood Test for Cancer. Should You Get It?

“The way we find cancer in our bodies today is often messy, imprecise and even potentially dangerous. It often involves taking sometimes fuzzy, unreadable images with CTs, MRIs and X-ray machines and cutting open our bodies to harvest bits of tissue for further analysis.

“Most of us never think to undergo such testing until it’s too late, and the cancer has already well on its way to killing us.

“A California-based company called Pathway Genomics is aiming to shake up this way of thinking about cancer detection. In September, Pathway announced that it would be offering an ‘early warning’ test that it says can detect snippets of abnormal DNA — for a whole group of major cancers, including breast, ovarian, lung, thyroid and prostate — in otherwise healthy people from a single vial of blood.”


Gene Mutation Signals Poor Prognosis for Pancreatic Tumors

“For patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, the presence of recently identified mutations in two key genes is a prognostic factor for poor outcome, researchers report.

” ‘We found loss of nuclear expression in about 23% of the tumors that we studied, and this loss of expression was associated with worse tumors from the outset,’ lead investigator Michelle Heayn, MD, a second-year pathology resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told Medscape Medical News.

“Pancreatic tumors with neuroendocrine histology frequently respond to chemotherapy and have a more favorable prognosis than the more common pancreatic adenocarcinomas. However, the mutations are associated with worse disease-free and disease-specific survival.”


OK for Flu Shot With Nivolumab, Other Checkpoint Inhibitors?

“The cancer treatment strategy of immune checkpoint blockade has produced unprecedented results in melanoma and lung cancer, as well as in experimental settings with other tumor types, including renal cell carcinoma and mesothelioma.

“Clinicians are not alone in taking notice, according to Niesha Griffith, MS, RPh, a pharmacist at the James Cancer Hospital of The Ohio State University in Columbus.

“Multiple patients at her center have requested these drugs for off-label use, and offered to pay upfront and out-of-pocket for the expensive therapies, she said. Such offers were rare before the advent of cancer immunotherapy, but now occur regularly.”


Popular Antioxidant Seems to Spread Skin Cancer Cells in Mouse Research

“A man-made antioxidant appears to accelerate the spread of skin cancer in mice, raising questions about its safety in humans, researchers say.

“The antioxidant, N-acetylcysteine, is used to relieve mucus production in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), said study senior author Martin Bergo, a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

“It also is used as a supplement by people who believe that the antioxidant can help reduce exercise-related muscle damage, burn fat and prevent fatigue, Bergo added.

“But water laced with N-acetylcysteine appeared to speed up the spread of melanoma, the potentially deadly skin cancer, in lab mice, researchers found.”