Thousands of Britons with incurable bladder cancer will be offered fresh hope thanks to an immune-boosting drug therapy that gives years of extra life.
Patients whose cancer had spread to other areas live a third longer on the medicine than those given standard chemotherapy, according to the findings of a newly published landmark trial.
Some survived over three years after they began treatment – more than double the average prognosis.
Artist Tracey Emin, pictured, has revealed she has an aggressive form of bladder cancer and expected at one point 'to be dead by Christmas'
A new form of immunotherapy treatment developed by British researchers is expected to give patients with the aggressive form of cancer additional hope
The discovery, made by British researchers, comes as renowned artist and Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin revealed she had an aggressive form of the disease – and expected, at one point, 'to be dead by Christmas'. She had to have major surgery.
The drug, avelumab, is a form of immunotherapy, meaning it helps the immune system to find and destroy cancer cells. Scientists at St Bartholomew's Hospital and Queen Mary's Hospital in London found that the treatment, given via a drip, was able to shrink tumours and keep them microscopic for twice as long as chemotherapy.
One of the 700 patients involved in the study who had five tumours, in his neck, lung, leg, abdomen and bladder, saw them shrink so much they became undetectable on scans.
Bladder cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 10,000 Britons every year, has a notoriously bleak outlook when spotted after it has spread, which is often the case.
Early symptoms, such as blood in the urine or burning, are often mistaken for common urinary tract infections, according to studies. Roughly two-thirds of patients with late stage bladder cancer will not survive much longer than a year.
A life-changing operation can be carried out to curb the spread of the disease, which involves fully removing the bladder and surrounding organs, including part of the bowel and, for women, their womb and part of the vagina.
Patients, who are then forced to use stoma bags to remove waste from the body, are often left feeling mutilated.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can target secondary tumours, slowing the progression of the disease, but eventually it stops working as cancer cells adapt and become better at fighting off the drugs. But avelumab can double the time spent in remission – when tumours stop growing or continue to reduce in size.
Professor Thomas Powles, oncologist at Barts Cancer Centre and lead investigator on the trial, said: 'Such a dramatic reduction in the death rate is