Not long ago, a diagnosis of multiple myeloma — a cancer of the bone marrow — carried with it a very poor prognosis, with median survival estimates of just two to three years. Now, thanks in large part to research and treatment advances at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), this disease is for many patients a chronic, and more manageable disease, with prognosis now improved to median survivals of seven to ten years.
Here is a look at how DF/BWCC physician-scientists and patients have helped lead the way toward improved treatment for multiple myeloma over the past three decades.
Immunotherapy – stimulating the body’s defenses to recognize and destroy disease-causing cells and proteins – was dubbed the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013 by Science magazine. Dana-Farber researchers have contributed many important discoveries over the years about how the immune system works. Now, they are building on these insights to develop immunotherapy against tumors – known as immuno-oncology.
In 2005 Dana-Farber established the Cancer Vaccine Center (CVC) under the leadership of Ellis Reinherz, MD, Jerome Ritz, MD, and Glenn Dranoff, MD. The mission of the CVC is to translate the promising insights from basic immunology into therapeutics that benefit cancer patients. The CVC undertook a series of clinical trials exploring the biologic activity of autologous tumor cell vaccines and antibodies targeting negative immunoregulatory pathways in patients. These investigations contributed to the foundation underlying the FDA approval of the first therapeutic cancer vaccine (Provenege) and the first antibody antagonizing a negative T cell checkpoint (ipilimumab).
When cancer develops in someone with other diseases, it can be more serious, according to a recent annual report from several national cancer organizations.
“Cancer does not occur in isolation,” says Lawrence Shulman, MD, in commenting on the report. “It occurs in a human being, who may have other medical problems.”
As 2013 comes to a close, we’re looking back at some of our favorite Insight posts from the last year. From inspiring patient stories to important research, here is our top 10 list:
By Robert Levy
Treatments that unleash the body’s own disease-fighting cells against cancer – an approach known as immunotherapy – have been heralded as the “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science magazine.
An analysis of data from the decades-long Nurses’ Health Study revealed that women who ate a one-ounce serving of nuts – any kind of nuts – two or more times a week had a 35 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer than women who abstained from them. That’s a significant and encouraging piece of news for a field that has had far too little.
by Richard Saltus
As recently as five years ago, progress in treating life-threatening malignant melanoma was slow. Since then, several molecularly targeted drugs have burst on the scene, and new strategies for awakening the immune system to attack the cancer cells have yielded dramatic long-term survival benefits for some patients.
“The outlook for patients has never been so good – and we anticipate that in the next year or two it will be much better,” says Louise M. Perkins, PhD, chief science officer for the Melanoma Research Alliance, which funds research on the skin cancer.
As November marks Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, view the infographic below to learn more about the disease:
Each year, Dana-Farber patients join clinicians, staff, and the Boston Red Sox to share their stories of inspiration and their belief in the research advances at Dana-Farber during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon at Fenway Park.
This year, nearly 100 patients, including Rayquan Fregeau, who used art and resources from the Betty Ann Blum and Marjorie Blum Pediatric Resource Room to cope with his diagnosis; Debbie Whitmore, a mother of five who hopes for a cure for future generations; and Jack Robinson, who compiled a joke book to help other children during their treatment, shared their experiences battling cancer. Stephen Hodi, MD, Ursula Matulonis, MD, and other clinicians discussed the research and treatment strides donors help make possible.
Watch this video of highlights from the 36-hour event, which raised more than $3.5 million to support adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber:
Breast cancer may develop in one part of the body, but it’s not just one disease. In fact, oncologists think of breast cancer as at least three different types of diseases.
Erica Mayer, MD, MPH
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) describes breast cancer cells that do not have estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors. It makes up approximately 15 percent of all breast cancers and is typically more aggressive than the other two types, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer and HER2-positive breast cancer.
“It may be the smallest group, but TNBC still represents thousands of women with breast cancer, so it is a very important group for us,” says Erica Mayer, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.