ASCO Annual Meeting 2017: A Preview of This Year’s Research

2017 ASCO Annual Meeting. #ASCO17
May 17, 2017
Monika Joshi, ASCO staff

“Although we span many disciplines and professions,” says ASCO President Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, “we are a single community with a singular focus: to provide better care for patients at risk for or with cancer.” That is why the theme of this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting is Making a Difference in Cancer Care WITH YOU. Watch a patient education video with Dr. Hayes explaining why the ASCO Annual Meeting is so significant.

More than 38,000 oncology professionals from around the world will be at the ASCO Annual Meeting, presenting and discussing the latest research in treatment and patient care. share on twitter While research will be released each day of the June 2-6 meeting, some of the research was released today:

  • Healthy lifestyle helps chances of survival after colon cancer diagnosis

  • Eating tree nuts could help reduce colon cancer recurrence

  • Oral chemotherapy extends survival in biliary tract cancer

  • More cancers diagnosed earlier after Affordable Care Act implementation

  • Targeted therapy can delay recurrence of some non-small cell lung cancers

  • HPV vaccination may reduce oral HPV infection 

Healthy lifestyle helps chances of survival after colon cancer diagnosis

A study of people diagnosed with stage III colon cancer found that those who maintain a healthy lifestyle during and after treatment had a 42% lower chance of dying from the cancer than those with a less healthy lifestyle. They were also less likely to have the cancer come back after treatment.

This study gathered information from a clinical trial involving 992 patients. As part of the clinical trial done in 1999 to 2001, patients answered questions about their health habits. In this study, their answers were given a score based on how closely their lifestyle matched guidelines released by the American Cancer Society in 2012.

For this study, measures of a healthy lifestyle included the following, and all factors were found to be important:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight

  • Being physically active

  • Eating a diet high in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and low in red meat and processed meat

  • Limiting alcohol

Healthy habits help patients after a colon cancer diagnosis: eat a health diet, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, maintain a healthy weight. 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting

What does this mean? A healthy lifestyle could help survivors of colon cancer live longer and lower the chance that the cancer will come back.

“There are over 1.3 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States. These patients need survivorship care, including guidance on what they can do to lower their risk of recurrence." 

— lead study author Erin Van Blarigan, ScD, University of California San Francisco

Eating tree nuts could help reduce colon cancer recurrence

Researchers found that people diagnosed with stage III colon cancer who ate 2 ounces or more of nuts per week had a 42% lower chance of the cancer coming back after treatment, called a recurrence. Patients who ate nuts also had a 57% lower chance of dying from colon cancer than those who did not eat nuts.

In a clinical trial that began in 1999, 826 people treated for stage III colon with chemotherapy filled out a questionnaire about how often they ate nuts and what kind. Researchers in this study reviewed those answers and found the long-term health benefits. The study showed that the benefits from eating nuts were linked specifically to tree nuts. Tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans. Eating peanuts or peanut butter was not linked with the same benefits. The study authors noted that this may be because peanuts are legumes, making them different than tree nuts.

This study also showed that eating tree nuts was beneficial regardless of a patient’s age, body mass index, gender, and the genetic changes in the tumor. These are all factors that are already known to affect the chance that a cancer may come back after treatment.

What does this mean? A diet that includes tree nuts may help reduce the chance of recurrence after treatment for stage III colon cancer.

Patients with advanced disease who benefit from chemotherapy frequently ask what else they can do to reduce their chances of recurrence or death. Our study is an important contribution to the idea that modifying diet and physical activity can be beneficial.”

— lead study author Temidayo Fadelu, MD, Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Oral chemotherapy extends survival in biliary tract cancer

A clinical trial with 447 people diagnosed with biliary tract cancer showed that giving capecitabine (Xeloda) after surgery lengthened patients’ lives by more than a year. Biliary tract cancer occurs in the bile duct system, which connects the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. Because this cancer is uncommon, there has been little research on using additional treatment after surgery. Capecitabine is a type of chemotherapy that can be given orally, by mouth.

In this study called BILCAP, patients who took capecitabine for 6 months after surgery lived a median of 15 months longer than patients who did not receive the medication. The median is the midpoint, which means that half of all patients lived longer and half lived for a shorter time. And, the patients who took capecitabine had a median time of 25 months until cancer recurrence, compared with 18 months for patients who did not. The most common side effect of capecitabine is a rash called hand-foot syndrome.

What does this mean? Capecitabine after surgery offers a potential treatment option for people with biliary tract cancer that is widely available, is easy to take by mouth, and may lengthen lives.

“Biliary tract cancer is a disease of decidedly unmet need as until recently there has been little research on treating the disease. Our trial is the first to enroll a sufficient number of patients to show that chemotherapy after surgery can have a significant improvement in survival, with modest side effects.” 

— lead study author John N. Primrose, MD, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

More cancers diagnosed earlier after Affordable Care Act implementation

An analysis of information from nearly 273,000 patients under age 65 showed a 1% increase in cancers diagnosed at the earliest, most treatable stages between 2013 and 2014, after the full Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect.

Researchers found that the percentage of people diagnosed with early stages of cancer increased for 4 of 5 common cancers that can be found through screening, specifically breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical cancer. The percentage of people diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early stage decreased by a little more than 1%. The researchers noted that this could be due to recent recommendations against frequent prostate cancer screening in younger age groups. For all groups, screening rates remained similar from 2013 to 2014.

What does this mean? A 1% increase in early-stage diagnosis can be significant, considering the thousands of people nationwide diagnosed with common cancers each year. More research is needed to find out whether factors other than the ACA could have caused this increase.

“We know from previous research that lack of insurance typically results in diagnosis of cancer at a later, and usually less treatable, stage. Although we only analyzed data from a limited timeframe, the fact that there appears to be a positive trend in diagnosis at an earlier stage in multiple cancers is an encouraging sign.” 

— lead study author Xuesong Han, PhD, American Cancer Society

Targeted therapy can delay recurrence of some non-small cell lung cancers

People with specific stages of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received the targeted therapy gefitinib (Iressa) after surgery lived about 10 months longer without the cancer coming back than patients who received standard chemotherapy.

As part of this study, 222 patients with stage II through stage IIIA NSCLC with an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) genetic mutation in the tumor received either gefitinib or the current standard of care of chemotherapy with vinorelbine (Navelbine) and cisplatin (Platinol) after surgery, also called adjuvant treatment. In addition to increasing the time it took for the cancer to return, gefitinib was linked with fewer side effects. Among the patients who received gefitinib, 12% had severe side effects compared with 48% who had chemotherapy.

What does this mean? These stages of NSCLC have a high chance of coming back after treatment, called recurrence. Targeted therapy could be more effective at delaying a cancer recurrence and cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy for people with EGFR-positive lung cancer.

“Adjuvant gefitinib may ultimately be considered as an important option for stage II-IIIA lung cancer patients with an active EGFR mutation, and we may consider routine EGFR testing in this earlier stage of lung cancer." 

— lead study author Yi-Long Wu, MD, Guangdong General Hospital, Guangzhou, China

HPV vaccination may reduce oral HPV infections

Young adults who received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine were 88% less likely to have high-risk oral HPV infections than those who had not received the vaccine. HPV is usually passed from person to person during genital contact, such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

In this study, researchers analyzed data on 2,627 young adults from 2011 to 2014, comparing those who had a HPV vaccine and those who did not. In the United States, HPV vaccination is currently approved for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers in women and anal cancer in men. HPV is also a known risk factor for some types of cancer found in the head and neck, including oral cancer. The incidence of HPV-caused oral cancers is rising, especially among men, but whether HPV vaccination could eventually reduce the number of oral cancers has not been studied in clinical trials. 

Researchers also reported that HPV vaccination rates remain low. In this study, less than 1 in 5 people in the United States received an HPV vaccine before age 26. In particular, the rate was much lower among men (less than 7%) than women (more than 29%).

What does this mean? The HPV vaccine may offer protective benefits beyond gynecologic and anal cancers for those who receive vaccination.

“The HPV vaccine is one of the most important advances in cancer prevention in the last several decades. Parents who choose to have their children vaccinated against HPV should realize that the vaccine may provide additional benefits, such as prevention of oral HPV infections linked to oral cancers."

— senior study author Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD, who conducted the research at Ohio State University; she is now at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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