Promising Research Developments Stir Hopes for Melanoma, Lung, Breast and Ovarian Cancer

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The growing excitement about the potential of immunotherapy treatments for cancer continued at the 2015 meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), one of the largest cancer research meetings of the year. Several Dana-Farber investigators presented encouraging results of immunotherapy for melanoma, lung cancer, and breast cancer. F. Stephen Hodi, MD, and Leena Gandhi, MD, gave reports on recently published results for immunotherapy trials in melanoma and lung cancer, respectively. Their findings were simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “This field has changed a lot in the past few years and even in the past …

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What Is a Cancer Vaccine?

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Cancer vaccines are medicines that spur the immune system’s natural defenses against cancer. They belong to a class of substances known as biological response modifiers, which strengthen or stimulate a basic bodily process – in this case, the immune system’s ability to detect and attack cancer cells. There are two broad types of cancer vaccines: Preventive vaccines, which are intended to prevent cancer from developing, and therapeutic vaccines, which treat an existing cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two preventive vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, for the prevention of cervical cancer. These work by the same general principle as …

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What Is It Like to Enroll in a Clinical Trial?

When Elizabeth Cahn was presented with her treatment options for triple-negative breast cancer, the decision was about more than just getting healthy; it was about “paying it forward.” “I know there are many people who participated in clinical trials before I came along and it was because of their participation that researchers were able to create a new combination of chemotherapy drugs available to me,” says Cahn. “It made me feel like I was part of a much bigger world of people trying to make the patient experience better.” Cahn (@ElizabethCahn) recently discussed her clinical trial experience during a live …

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Chronicling Cancer Research in Books and Film

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In two recent books and the Ken Burns TV documentary, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies”, prominent researchers explain eloquently why cancer is such a stubborn problem and detail how the latest treatment strategies are gaining ground – if slowly. “There have been so many wonderful changes,” says David G. Nathan, MD, president emeritus of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a noted pioneer in treating inherited blood disorders . “But I try to make people understand that they have to be patient; it’s slow, steady progress, but we’ll get there.” In Nathan’s 2007 book, “The Cancer Treatment Revolution,” he describes the …

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Five Common Myths About Clinical Trials

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Better cancer treatments depend on clinical trials of new drugs and other therapies, but in the United States, only 3 percent of cancer patients participate in these investigations of new therapies. Patients often hesitate to participate because they don’t understand the process or have misconceptions about what it means for them. “There’s a national lack of understanding of why we do clinical research and where it takes us,” says Michele Russell-Einhorn, JD, Senior Director of the Office for Human Research Studies at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. “We could all do a better job of educating people about clinical …

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Discovering New Ways to Approach the Treatment of Rare Brain Tumors

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Until a few years ago, there were only a handful of known survivors of atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT), a rare cancer that affects the brain and central nervous system. When researchers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center studied how these few survivors were treated, they found three had been given an unusual chemotherapy regimen. They decided to try that therapy with several new and relapsed patients. “We had two kids with newly diagnosed AT/RT and two that had relapsed, and three of them did very well,” says Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, director of Medical Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Boston …

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Collaborative Effort Helps Develop More Effective Treatment for Brain Tumors

The information used in diagnosing a brain tumor takes many forms. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), patients’ brain tumor tissue undergoes a broad range of diagnostic tests: not only standard pathology exams in which tumor cells are viewed under a microscope, but also next-generation scans for mutated genes and misassembled chromosomes, as well as whole-genome searches for surplus or missing copies of genes. Such extensive testing helps pinpoint the exact type and characteristics of a particular tumor. The more specific the diagnosis, the more precise the therapy can be. But such a wealth of test results is only …

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Why the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative Is Good for Cancer Research

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A boost in funding for research on genetic causes of cancer and “tailored” cancer treatments will be a major focus of the new Precision Medicine Initiative. President Barack Obama is requesting an increase of $215 million in the 2016 budget, to launch the effort “to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.” Of that total, $130 million is slated for the NIH for development of a voluntary national research cohort of a million or more volunteers, …

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The Latest in Cervical Cancer Treatment, Research and Prevention

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Although cervical cancer is relatively rare in the United States, approximately 11,000-12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year. Globally, that number grows to more than 500,000 diagnoses each year, making it the fourth most common women’s cancer worldwide. As January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber hosted a live cervical cancer webchat with Ursula Matulonis, MD, medical director of the Gynecologic Oncology Program at the Susan F. Smith Center, medical oncologist Alexi Wright, MD, MPH, and radiation oncologist Larissa Lee, MD. The discussion included information about …

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What to Expect for Cancer Prevention and Therapies in 2015

Dr. William Hahn

This post was originally published on Cancer Research Catalyst, the official blog of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).  Since the beginning of the “war on cancer” in the 1970s, we have made consistent progress against cancer aided by paradigm-shifting technological advances. Last year, we witnessed significant developments being made on several different fronts. Proof of this is the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of eight cancer drugs, including a few milestone “first-of-their-kind” drugs encompassing immunotherapies and targeted therapies, and a nine-valent vaccine that can prevent infections that cause cervical cancer. The substantial gains we have made …

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