Advanced stages of skin and lung cancer were both previously considered terminal.

Results of early trials of the therapy on skin cancer patients in the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, and France were published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists studied 142 patients, 72 of which were given a combination of immune-system boosting Nivolumab and Ipilimumab, while the rest were given one of the drugs and a placebo.

61% of the participants that were given both drugs saw their tumors shrink over the following twelve months.

These results were better than researchers expected and were both surprised and impressed by how good the results are.

These findings have opened up a whole avenue of treatments for patients for whom previously there was little to offer.

Researchers believe that over the next ten years there will be great responses to this treatment and that up to half of these patients will be able to be cured.

Experts believe that a combination of drugs will work on other strains of cancer including bladder and kidney cancer. They predict speedy progress in the field.

Cancer cells survive and multiply by releasing signals that stop the immune system from doing its job of destroying mutated cells.

The new treatment with Nivolumab and Ipilimumab involved an infusion of two different antibodies that allows the immune system to seek and destroy malignant cells.

Previous research conducted on more than 4,000 patients across Europe and the United States found that up to a fifth who were given a less sophisticated version of therapy using just one immune system boosting drug were cancer free after ten years. 

Results of these separate trials using the combination therapy on patients with advanced lung or skin cancer are to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago which starts on Saturday.

Scientists assert that more research is necessary before the treatment can be made available to patients outside medical trials.

Gerry Oginski
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