New Immunotherapy Drug for Melanoma Wins Approval

Stephen Hodi, MD

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of  immunotherapy drug that will provide a much-needed option for patients with advanced or inoperable melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs – including the immunotherapy agent ipilimumab (Yervoy). The drug, pembrolizumab or MK-3745, will be marketed under the name  Keytruda. Based on impressive performance in clinical trials, the FDA had designated pembrolizumab a “breakthrough therapy” and placed it on a fast-tracked approval process. “This drug is exciting because of its really striking response rate and good indications that these responses are durable” for a least a year, says Patrick Ott, MD, PhD, clinical …

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Understanding the New Treatment Guidelines for HER2-Negative Breast Cancer

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A new national guideline for the treatment of women with a type of advanced breast cancer known as HER2-negative disease balances state-of-the-art evidence with a need to tailor therapy to each patient’s circumstances and preferences. The guideline, developed by a panel of experts convened by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), will help clarify the choices facing patients and physicians in treating one of the most common forms of breast cancer. Nearly 80 percent of advanced breast cancers are classified as HER2-negative, meaning the cancer cells do not have excess amounts of the HER2 protein and don’t respond to …

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How is Research Improving Treatment of Head and Neck Cancers?

Jochen Lorch, M.D. Head and Neck oncology.

Head and neck cancers account for 3 to 5 percent of all cancers in the United States and can occur in the oral and nasal cavities, the sinuses, the throat, the larynx, the salivary glands, and the thyroid. When diagnosed early, many head and neck cancers can be cured with combinations of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Researchers in the Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center have shown that carefully tailored regimens involving surgery and combined chemotherapy/radiation can often save tissues and structures like the larynx and vocal cords, which are vital to good quality …

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The Truth About BRCA Testing and Genetic Risk

Huma Rana, MD - SMALL

Cancer genetics has come a long way in the last two decades, leading to increased prevention and improved treatment options. Today, research is shining the light on why certain people have an increased risk for cancer. “It took us 20 years to get where we are today with the knowledge of BRCA1/2, but we are starting to find changes in other genes that are explaining a history of cancer in families,” says Huma Q. Rana, MD, clinical director for Dana-Farber’s Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention. “These new genes we’re identifying are likely to make a difference in prevention and …

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Research Shines Spotlight on Risk of Morcellation Procedure in Hysterectomy

SuzanneGeorgeMD

Research by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent warning about laparoscopic power morcellation, a procedure sometimes used to remove the uterus and uterine fibroids, noncancerous growths that often appear during childbearing years. The FDA based its warning on data suggesting that the procedure may spread unsuspected cancerous tissue beyond the uterus. The procedure involves an electrical device, a morcellator, that slices uterine tissue into pieces that are removed through small incisions in the abdomen. Such “minimally invasive” surgery is often preferred to traditional, open-abdominal surgery because it can lower the risk of infection and …

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Research Advances Hold Promise for Multiple Myeloma Treatment

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Multiple myeloma is one of the most compelling examples of a cancer in which research has markedly improved the length and quality of patients’ lives in the last decade. A malignancy of certain white blood cells in the bone marrow known as plasma cells, myeloma is still considered incurable, but treatment advances have significantly improved survival. Not long ago, patients with myeloma lived a median time of two to three years after diagnosis. Today, median survival is seven to 10 years, although this can be unpredictable, with some patients living longer and others surviving for significantly shorter time periods. Scientists have …

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ASCO: New Advances in Ovarian, Prostate, Lung and Melanoma Treatment

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“Science and Society” was the theme of this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 50th annual meeting. The meeting showcased  cancer research from around the world. Some new findings from Dana-Farber researchers included: Joyce Liu, MD, MPH, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers reported that, in a phase 2 clinical trial, a combination of olaparib (a drug that blocks DNA repair in cancer cells) and cediranib (which blocks blood vessel growth in tumors) was considerably more effective in women with recurrent ovarian cancer than olaparib alone.. Progression-free survival – the length of time after treatment when …

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50 Years of Discovery: Advances in Colorectal Cancer Treatment

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The fight against cancers of the digestive system – including colorectal, stomach, esophageal, hepatic, and pancreatic cancers – has made significant progress in the past 50 years, especially in prevention and early diagnosis of colorectal cancer, where screening with tests such as colonoscopies is continuing to make a major impact. “In some areas we have done better than others,” notes Robert J. Mayer, MD, former director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology at Dana-Farber. Mayer, a past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), led a recently published review commissioned by ASCO. Today, about two out of three colorectal …

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What is a Phase I Clinical Trial?

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Nearly all cancer drugs in use today were developed through clinical trials. But before they are approved for use, they must go through multiple phases designed to test the drug’s safety and efficacy. These phases include preclinical, phase I, II, and III. In phase I clinical trials, investigators evaluate how often and how much of the drug should be given. These early trials are often small, enrolling between 15 and 100 patients, but are an essential step in the development of more effective cancer treatments. “People who enroll in phase I trials are helping us discover new treatment options for …

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Webchat: The Latest in Breast Cancer Treatment and Research

With new approaches to therapy and increased understanding of the biology of cancer, breast cancer treatment has made significant progress in recent years. “I am personally very excited about what’s to come for breast cancer treatment,” says Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. “I think we will have drugs available in the clinic in the next several years that may have a dramatic impact on outcomes for women with breast cancer.” Winer discussed the latest in breast cancer treatment and research during a live video webchat …

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