Chemotherapy remains a mainstay of cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy remains one of the mainstays of cancer treatment, but these harsh drugs are slowly being edged aside in medical research, as new treatments, like immunotherapy, grab the spotlight.
Still, this is not the end of the road for chemotherapy. For one thing, doctors are coming to realize that some of these drugs are useful for more than just killing cancer cells.
Dr. Robert Comis, a professor and oncologist at Drexel University, had the first inkling of this phenomenon 30 years ago, after he ran a test involving radiation therapy along with just two cycles of chemotherapy — far too few cycles to be truly effective. Even so, the patients did much better than he’d expected.
“The only explanation was there was this large effect that involved the whole body,” says Comis, who also co-leads the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group in Philadelphia. Chemotherapy wasn’t simply killing cancer cells, he realized; apparently it was stimulating the immune system, too.
And that meant these old-fashioned drugs could play a new role.
To be sure, chemotherapy is still used a lot for its ability to kill cancer cells, even in clinical trials that involve newer treatments like immunotherapy.
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