Immunotherapy has given some patients extra years of life and now new combinations of the treatment may offer hope to many more.
Sandra Sayce often finds she is seeing a new doctor when she goes for her regular hospital check-ups. She has a suspicion they all want to meet her. The NHS doesn’t do miracle cures – and nobody, including Sayce, is prepared to say that her advanced skin cancer has been beaten. Yet the last treatment she had for stage 4 melanoma, which normally kills within months, was nearly 10 years ago.
Sayce is one of the longest survivors of a new approach to cancer treatment that has had cautious and weary doctors almost punching the air in excitement. The 52-year-old is alive and well thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Royal Marsden in London, the world-leading cancer hospital. Its patients and those referred from other NHS hospitals, as Sayce was, are invited to take part in clinical trials. It is at the cutting edge of cancer drug discovery.
Western countries have been steadily fighting back against cancer in recent decades: Britain has recorded a 10% decline in death rates over the past 10 years.
But growing numbers of people are still being diagnosed with the illness. Traditional chemotherapy kills healthy cells as well as cancer cells – and there is always the possibility the disease will come back.