A breakthrough drug for oesophageal cancer can give more than two years of life to some patients who would otherwise have just months to live, a landmark trial has found.
Experts have hailed the treatment the biggest advance in decades for this cancer type, which affects the tube that connects the throat and the stomach.
Currently, in cases where the cancer has spread, few treatments are available, and half of patients will not survive a year.
Actor John Thaw, star of ITV’s long-running series Inspector Morse, survived just eight months after being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He died in 2002, aged 60. The star is pictured with his wife Sheila Hancock
Actor John Thaw, star of ITV’s long-running series Inspector Morse, survived just eight months after being diagnosed with the disease. He died in 2002, aged 60.
But now an international study has found that ten times as many patients lived for two years when taking the new immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, compared with those given standard chemotherapy treatment.
The medicine, administered via a drip, works by stimulating the body’s immune system to attack cancerous cells.
‘For the past 40 years, we have failed to improve survival for this particular cancer,’ says Professor Wasat Mansoor, a consultant medical oncologist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and lead trial investigator in the UK. ‘The improvement gained with pembrolizumab is a big, big change.’
More than 9,000 Britons are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer every year, but this is often at a late stage when it has spread to nearby tissue.
The oesophagus – or food pipe – is soft and flexible to allow food to pass through to the stomach, but tumours can grow undetected. Eventually the growth may cause fatigue, loss of appetite and difficulty swallowing, but these symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses.
If oesophageal cancer is caught early,