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FDA Approves Immunotherapy to Treat Small Cell Lung Cancer

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an immunotherapy drug May 16 to treat small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which strikes about 35,000 people a year in the U.S. The drug, Imdelltra (tarlatamab), is intended only for SCLC patients who have been treated extensively with chemotherapy and other immunotherapy drugs and have a life expectancy of four to five months. According to a study published Oct. 20, 2023, in the New England Journal of Medicine, the drug increased median life expectancy to 14 months after patients took the drug. Forty percent of those who took Imdelltra had their cancer respond to the treatment. Unlike the more common non-small cell lung cancer, which has seen a number of treatment breakthroughs in the past several years, recent SCLC treatments added to the longtime standard of chemotherapy have only added about two months to patient survival. Imdelltra offers SCLC patients hope, said lung cancer specialist and researcher Anish Thomas of the National Cancer Institute, who was not involved in the trial. “I feel it’s a light after a long time,” Anish said in a story in the New York Times. Imdelltra works by bringing together the cancer cell and an immune cell in the bloodstream that can attack and kill the cancer. Despite the positive results from the treatment, Imdelltra carries the risk of a serious side effect called cytokine release syndrome, an overreaction by the immune system that can lead to fever, nausea, fatigue and body aches.

Using Urine Tests to Identify Cancer

Urine has long been sampled to look for diabetes, urinary or kidney diseases, drug use, and pregnancy. Now researchers are looking for biomarkers—clues to the presence of a disease—in urine that could help identify cancer, similar to blood tests like the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. “The search for cancer biomarkers that can be detected in urine could provide an enormous step forward to decrease cancer patient mortality,” pathologist Kenneth R. Shroyer of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, who studies cancer biomarkers, said in a story on Medscape. “Urine testing could detect biomarkers of early-stage cancers, not only from local but also distant sites.” Trace amounts of various substances are found in urine, including “exfoliated cancer cells, cell-free DNA, hormones, and the urine microbiota—the collection of microbes in our urinary tract system,” Pak Kin Wong, a professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and surgery at the Pennsylvania State University, told Medscape. “We are starting to understand the rich information that can be obtained from urine.” Researchers are investigating ways to use urine testing to detect prostate cancer, head and neck cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

Gallbladder Cancer on the Rise Among Black Americans

The rate of gallbladder cancer is rising steadily among Black Americans, while remaining stable or declining in other groups, according to new study results. In addition, a growing number of cases among Black Americans are being diagnosed at later stages, when treatments have a lower chance of success. Gallbladder cancer has few or no symptoms at early stages, making it difficult to detect. For the study, researchers analyzed records for nearly 77,000 patients diagnosed with gallbladder cancer between 2001 and 2020. They found that gallbladder cancer rates were stable among white Americans and declined at an average rate of 0.6% among Hispanic people. But they increased by an average of 1% per year among Black people, and late-stage diagnoses increased by nearly 3% per year. “This could be due to a lack of timely access to health care leading to delayed diagnosis,” said lead researcher Yazan Abboud, an internal medicine resident at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School in Newark, in a story in U.S. News & World Report. Future studies should look for the reasons behind the disparities between Black people and other groups to improve early detection for all, Abboud said. The study was presented May 20 at Digestive Disease Week 2024 in Washington, D.C.