For decades, esophageal cancer has defied scientific attempts to discover a therapy that extends patients’ survival, year after year claiming the lives of such illustrious people as Humphrey Bogart, Christopher Hitchens and Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas. Now a large clinical trial offers hope, finding that a drug that unleashes the immune system to attack cancer cells can double the disease-free survival times in patients from 11 months to 22 months. The drug, Nivolumab, is already approved for some patients with other cancers, like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma and colorectal cancer. If approved for treatment of early-stage esophageal cancer, it could provide hope for the 75% of patients who go through extraordinarily difficult sequences of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery that disfigures the digestive system, only to learn that cancer is still present or has a high likelihood of recurring.
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