A new immunotherapy drug could spare some bowel cancer patients life-changing surgery, results of a trial suggest. When given with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, durvalumab can destroy cancers in the lower part of the bowel – removing the need for an operation.
Currently, around half of patients with this type of bowel cancer – rectal cancer – will have surgery resulting in a stoma, a pouch which collects waste products outside of the body.
This can leave patients exposed to risks of infection, skin irritation and other embarrassing problems.
But durvalumab has been found to be so effective in some patients, surgery is unnecessary.
When given with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, durvalumab can destroy cancers in the lower part of the bowel – removing the need for an operation
The trial, which recruited 42 patients at five hospitals across the UK, is yet to publish a full set of findings. But experts say early results are promising.
One patient to benefit is 75-year-old Paul Cusick, who was diagnosed with rectal cancer in January.
The police community support officer took part in the trial, called PRIME-RT, and was treated with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and durvalumab, given as a monthly infusion for 12 weeks.
Doctors aimed to shrink the tumour before surgery, making it easier to remove – but scans in June showed no sign of cancer.
Professor Mark Saunders, consultant clinical oncologist at The Christie hospital in Manchester – which is running the trial – said: ‘We’ve had quite a number of patients who now don’t need surgery, which is very promising, but we have to follow them up for a little while longer.’
A US study of 14 patients last year found that the drug destroyed rectal tumours in all patients with a specific type of cancer.
The drug is already used for some types of lung cancer and has shown to be effective in endometrial and stomach cancers.
Speaking of his treatment, Paul said: ‘I’ve been healthy all my life so getting the diagnosis was a real shock.
‘I’m obviously delighted that the cancer appears to have completely disappeared and I don’t have to have an operation.
‘I didn’t really have any serious side-effects so the experience has been really good.
‘I’m now looking forward to getting back on the beat in Bolton later this year.’