I wrote last week that the scariest thing you'll ever hear is, "You have cancer."
Possibly the second worst is... "The cancer's back."
After you've undergone treatment for cancer and it's gone, you'll be in remission... meaning there's no sign of cancer.
But that doesn't always mean your cancer is gone for good...
Cancer recurrence means that the same cancer has come back. It's not always at the original site – it can also appear in other parts of the body. So if you had bladder cancer, it might reappear in your bladder... Or it could show up somewhere else, like the lymph nodes in your neck.
If you had a fast-growing or more widespread cancer in the first place, you'll have a higher risk of recurrence. It also depends on the type of cancer. For instance, with breast cancer, there's a higher chance of recurrence if the tumor is large in size. Younger women first diagnosed under 35 also have a much higher chance of recurrence.
If there's a recurrence, it typically happens within the first two years. At five years, your risk drops some. And at 10 years, your risk drops even more.
However, different types of cancers may have different time points. For example, a new study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine warns that some breast-cancer survivors face a change of recurrence for 20 years. The type of breast cancer requires hormonal control for five years, but women still had high risks of recurrence for an additional 15 years afterward.
But there's a new type of cancer therapy that has boomed over the past few years... immunotherapy.
Scientists now think immunotherapy can both treat your initial cancer... and cut recurrence rates.
Immunotherapy involves training your own immune system to find and kill cancer cells.
A new study from the Mayo Clinic, along with three leading cancer research facilities in the U.K., looked at immunotherapy and recurrence in mice.
The researchers looked at mice with recurring cancer and found the returned cancer initially resisted treatment. One way it did that was to figure out a way to hide from the immune system's T-cells and NK cells. These specialized cells work to find, target, and kill infectious cells or cancer cells.
But the mice had cancer that "hid" from these immune cells. The researchers found that the tumors that came back had outer layers covered in a molecule called PD-1.
Immune cells have PD-1 receptors. So if they encounter a cell with PD-1, they won't attack it. Think of it as an identity tag saying that a cell is normal and healthy, even if it isn't.
Fetal cells have lots of PD-1 so that the mother's immune system doesn't attack them.
So the researchers started giving the mice PD-1 inhibitor therapy... one type of immunotherapy. It turned off this receptor so that the immune cells could still kill the cancer. They found that not only did recurrence rates slow, in some cases they stopped altogether.
Normally, we're wary about mice studies, but we already know from previous human studies that this kind of PD-1 specific treatment works to fight tumors. So this is promising for future human use.
The study's co-author, Professor Kevin Harrington, explained it best in Medical News Today: "It is becoming [increasingly] clear that the immune system is at the core of the puzzle of how we can treat cancer more effectively."
This is cutting-edge research. Immunotherapy has already been proven to help treat difficult cancers like advanced melanoma. Now with this development, we're hopeful we can prevent aggressive, and deadly, recurrences.
That's why tomorrow, I'm sitting down with my colleague Dave Lashmet to discuss the promise of immunotherapy. Dave is the editor of Stansberry Venture Technology, where he covers companies with breakthrough discoveries. You won't want to miss this event... And attendees will get a free copy of my book all about immunotherapy, The Living Cure. Click here to sign up today.
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What We're Reading...
- Understanding recurrence and progression.
- Something different: Why elephants rarely get cancer.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
November 14, 2017