Are we on the verge of a cure for cancer? This week, scientists announced breakthroughs with vaccine

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BREAST

The most common cancer in the UK — more than 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

Around 85 per cent of women diagnosed with it in England survive for five years or more, and the survival rate has doubled in the last 40 years.

There have been various breakthroughs in treatment. Recently, the first results of a large-scale trial showed that the targeted drug olaparib improved survival rates in women with early-stage breast cancer who have inherited faults in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Added to standard treatment, it cut the risk of women dying by 32 per cent.

PROSTATE

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to affect British men, with 51,100 new cases every year. A third of those affected are aged 75 or over. But survival rates are high compared to other types of cancer, with almost 90 per cent surviving for five years or more, and almost 80 per cent surviving ten years or more.

Surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy are among current treatment options, with a revolutionary new treatment — which uses highly-focused beams of ultrasound or cryotherapy to target the cancer while leaving surrounding tissue unharmed — being rolled out at nine UK hospitals. Researchers say it could help treat 12,000 men a year.

LUNG

There are around 48,500 new lung cancer cases in the UK every year, and it accounts for a fifth of all cancer deaths. Some 60 per cent of patients die within a year of diagnosis, while around 15 per cent survive for five years or more.

For those in the early stages, surgery is typically offered to remove a portion of the lung — and tumour within. This is normally followed by chemotherapy to kill off any cancer cells that have spread elsewhere in the body.

In April, experts hailed a ‘quantum leap’ forward in treatment, thanks to a new double-drug therapy — giving the immunotherapy drug nivolumab alongside chemotherapy prior to surgery — that can reduce the risk of relapse and boost survival by years. Trial results suggested that, two years on, patients given the double-drug therapy before surgery had a 37 per cent reduced risk of disease recurrence, progression and death compared to those who had chemotherapy alone.

Meanwhile, last year the approval of the drug sotorasib for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer was described as one of the biggest recent breakthroughs for this most common type of lung cancer.

BOWEL

ALSO known as colorectal cancer, this cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Around 43,000 men and women are diagnosed in the UK every year and it claims 46 lives every day, making it the third most common cause of cancer death. Almost 60 per cent survive for five years or more.

As with many cancers, surgery and chemotherapy are the main treatments, but in recent years there have been several promising developments, such as clinical trials of a drug called adavosertib, taken as a daily pill, which could delay tumour regrowth among patients with an aggressive type of inoperable bowel cancer.

Other research has been looking at drugs that block cancer blood vessels as well as immunotherapies. Meanwhile, another current trial uses targeted cancer drugs called monoclonal antibodies to treat early bowel cancer.

WOMB

Most womb cancers start in the lining of the womb. Around 9,700 women are diagnosed in the UK each year, making it the fourth most common cancer in women.

Survival rates are very high for those diagnosed early, with the overall five-year survival rate standing at 75 per cent.

Surgery is the main treatment for early stage womb cancer, with radiotherapy and chemotherapy if there is a high risk of the cancer returning.

Earlier this year the NHS announced that hundreds of women with aggressive womb cancer would benefit from the first new treatment for 30 years, the same drug at the centre of the promising colorectal trial, dostarlimab.

SKIN

Melanoma skin cancer is considered the most dangerous form of the disease because it can grow and spread so quickly to other organs. Around 16,000 men and women are diagnosed with the cancer, and it claims around 2,300 lives every year.

The difference early diagnosis makes is stark: nearly 100 per cent of those diagnosed at stage one will survive for five years or more, dropping to 30 per cent for those diagnosed at stage four, the most severe type.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy.

Over the past decade, treatment has been transformed by checkpoint inhibitor drugs, which release ‘brakes’ on the immune system, unleashing its killing power against the cancer.

And last year the results of a trial of tumour-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy, a one-off treatment using the patient’s own immune cells to seek out and destroy the disease, heralded hope of a breakthrough. It worked in more than a third of cases, shrinking tumours and, in two patients, eliminating the cancer after a single treatment.

NON-HODGKIN LYMPHOMA

A type of lymphoma, or blood cancer, around 14,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with it each year. Encompassing more than 60 different types, it is most common in older people, and the five-year survival rate is around 65 per cent.

Treatments include chemotherapy, steroids and a combination of chemotherapy and targeted immunotherapy drugs.

More recently, some patients who have relapsed or not responded to other therapies have been able to access a high-tech — and, at £250,000, expensive — treatment called CAR T-cell therapy, which involves training immune cells to seek and destroy the deadly threat from within.

Also deployed against some other types of cancer, the whole treatment process — from the collection of the patient’s T-cells (a type of white blood cell) to the transfusion of the engineered cells back into the patient — takes about a month.

PANCREATIC

Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to spot, with symptoms including jaundice, nausea, weight loss and stomach and back pain. About 10,500 people are diagnosed in the UK every year. Around 25 per cent survive for a year or more post-diagnosis; just 7 per cent survive for five years or more.

Treatment includes chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill the cancerous cells and surgery to remove them, and this has remained unchanged for several decades.

But in addition to this week’s news about a vaccine that could prevent pancreatic cancer returning, some hope was provided last month by an experimental treatment in the U.S., which used gene therapy to make immune cells attack tumour cells, shrinking tumours in a female patient.

KIDNEY

Kidney cancer is the seventh most common in the UK, with 13,140 new cases diagnosed per year, most often in patients in their 60s and 70s. Sixty-four per cent survive for five years or more.

The most common treatment is surgery to remove all or part of the kidney, or a non-surgical process called ‘thermal ablation’, where parts of the organ are burnt or frozen off. In some patients immunotherapy can slow or stop the disease.

LEUKAEMIA

Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. There are several types depending on which types of cells are affected. About 9,800 people in the UK are diagnosed every year. Treatment options include chemotherapy, targeted drug therapies and stem cell transplants.

More than half of patients survive for five or more years. Several drug trials have recently shown promising results in improving survival rates, and the introduction of immunotherapies has been called a ‘game-changer’.

BETH HALE and SARAH RAINEY

 

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