Cancer ‘smart bombs’ hit oncology conference

Report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference, Chicago, USA (June 1-5 2012)

Medics often cringe when health reporters talk about ‘magic bullet’ treatments but the buzz at ASCO, the world’s largest cancer conference, is all about ‘smart bombs’ — a new generation of cancer treatments which arm monoclonal antibodies with chemotherapy that would otherwise be too toxic to use.

In effect these new treatments are cancer-seeking missiles which home in on tumour cells and pierce their outer coating to drop a pay-load of chemo directly inside. Healthy cells are untouched so side-effects such as hair loss and nausea are minimal.

T-DM1, a super-charged Herceptin stalls aggressive breast cancer for three months, data presented today shows. It might not sound much, but that’s a result in women who have run out of all other options.

The first major trial has been so successful there are not enough events (research-speak for deaths) to calculate overall survival, but lead researcher Professor Kimberly Blackwell told a press conference it will be “at least a year”.

It’s one of a number of combination treatments, which attack cancer on several fronts and are tailored to each patient’s cancer, being investigated.

Immuno-oncology is also getting a lot of attention. Treatments such as Ipilimumab re-educate the immune system to attack cancer cells. This approach takes longer to work, but works for longer.


About the Author

Jane Symons is a freelance health writer and former editor of The Sun's health pages. She tweets @janesymons1

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