Promising Cancer Breakthroughs in 2022

December 2, 2022

Over the last twelve months, researchers have been busy conducting medical studies with the ultimate goal of curing and preventing cancer.

DNA Liquid Biopsies

A liquid biopsy is the sampling and analysis of non-solid tissue, usually blood. As it relates to treating cancer patients, physicians are focusing on ctDNA and cfDNA.

ctDNA is known as circulating tumor DNA and is made up of fragments of DNA that break off from cancer cells and enter the bloodstream. An oncologist may determine the tumor’s presence or growth by examining the amount of ctDNA in a patient’s blood. This could help guide cancer care, monitor care, or identify new targets for targeted therapy. By examining ctDNA with circulating tumor cells – which can indicate if cancer is growing or spreading – doctors may be able to determine how cancer is functioning within a patient quickly.

cfDNA is known as cell-free DNA and comes from cells that are not from a tumor. These DNA fragments differ from ctDNA and may be biomarkers of early disease response, recurrence, or progression. Researchers are investigating cfDNA and its implications for several cancers, specifically cervical cancer, which can be challenging to diagnose in its early stages.

The possibilities of liquid biopsies in cancer care include predicting the risk of cancer reoccurring, guiding effective cancer care, and helping monitor a patient’s response to treatment more efficiently. However, this technology is still relatively new, and its uses are still being defined and tested.

Possible Treatment for Immunotherapy Resistance

Recent trials in the UK have had promising results in preventing the advancement of cancer in patients that have become resistant to immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses the immune system to target and kill cancer cells; however, some tumors evolve and become resistant to treatment. In this study, physicians used a combined treatment approach with pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug, and guadecitabine, an experimental drug used for DNA hypomethylation.

This dual treatment was given to 30 patients who participated in phase 1 of the trial. Every three weeks for three years, patients received pembrolizumab on the first day and guadecitabine injections over four days. Before the trial, 60 percent of the patients were resistant to immunotherapy. After receiving the combination treatment, there was no tumor progression for 24 weeks or more in 37 percent of patients.

The patients included in the trial had been diagnosed with lung, breast, prostate, or bowel cancer. The results show the potential of a new weapon to reverse the resistance to immunotherapy that develops in some cancers. This appears especially beneficial for lung cancer patients because of those in the trial that were resistant to immunotherapy; 50 percent had their disease progression halted for 24 weeks or more.

Unprecedented Result in Recent Cancer Trial

A cancer trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center included 19 trial participants with rectal cancer. The cancer patients were given an experimental cancer drug, dostarlimab, which helps their immune system target and kill cancer cells. This trial’s results were exceptional because the cancer disappeared in 100 percent of the patients. This was a small study, and future trials are planned with more participants, including those with other cancers, but this could be a potential turning point in the fight against cancer.

Potential Breast Cancer Vaccine

Researchers from the University of Washington have released findings for a possible DNA vaccine that could help fight aggressive forms of breast cancer. This vaccine was developed to target the HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor) protein. Elevated levels of this protein can help cancer cells progress more quickly and are found in about 20 percent of breast cancer tumors. However, an overproduction of this protein can also trigger cytotoxic – also known as cell-killing – immunity. The vaccine aims to stimulate a cell-killing response in patients with the HER2 protein.

Over 10 years, 65 patients completed the trial and received 3 injections of the DNA vaccine at various doses. Researchers monitored patients over the next 10 years and found that patients developed anti-tumor immunity. What is also promising is that statistically, around half of the participants with advanced breast cancer should have died within 5 years of treatment; however, about 80 percent of participants are still alive after 10 years.

There were many more breakthroughs in the fight against cancer this year, giving us hope for a future that is cancer free.

Recap of the 34th Annual Fall Foliage Cancer Conference

Held among the beautiful autumnal colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Fall Foliage Cancer Conference was held for the 34th time on October 21 and 22, 2022, at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn located in Asheville, NC. Sponsored by Partners In Care, this continuing medical education program has a reputation for bringing together highly knowledgeable faculty from prestigious medical schools and cancer centers from around the country to share clinical advances in cancer treatment.

This year, guest faculty shared updates for lung cancer treatment in areas such as radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, ablative therapy, bronchoscopy, imaging, and thoracic surgery. The conference was well-attended by multi-specialty providers across the United States, from California to Florida. Attendees enjoyed the many opportunities to network with faculty during conference events and Q & A sessions.

We are grateful to the many companies who provided educational grants and participated as sponsors or exhibitors at the conference. These organizations help make the Fall Foliage Cancer Conference possible. Their generous contributions will help our patient assistance program and provide cancer screenings throughout the year.

Held every October at the Omni Grove Park Inn, next year’s conference is scheduled for October 20 and 21, 2023. The conference’s main topic will be announced soon, so we hope cancer treatment providers save the date and plan to attend.