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Progress in cancer therapy: Life expectancy and quality of life increase

(Vienna 26-01-2016) The tumour therapy has made enormous progress during the past years. Patients with a variety of cancers and stages are able to profit from crucial improvements to life expectancy and quality of life due to innovative approaches in diagnostics and therapy.

Immunological tumour therapies have made a considerable contribution to this positive development in recent times. They are based on the realisation that tumour cells suppress the defence against themselves and are thus able to successfully avoid destruction due to endogenic defence mechanisms. The new immune therapies protect the immune system and/or once again activate it against the tumour by blocking these mechanisms. "The first approved preparations are already proving themselves in clinical application, particularly in case of advanced stages of the melanoma, the non-small cell bronchial carcinoma as well as the kidney cell carcinoma. Many new substances are already almost ready to be launched on the market" emphasises Christoph Zielinski, Manager of the University Clinic for Internal Medicine I and Manager for the Clinical Division for Oncology at the MedUni Vienna/AKH Vienna on Tuesday during a press conference in Vienna on the occasion of the impending World Cancer Day on 4 February 2016. As well as their good effectiveness, the new immune therapeutics are also characterised by excellent compatibility.

"One important field of research is also the establishment of new combinations of medication which either strengthen the immune defence function or lift their blockage", reports Zielinski. Parallel to works in the field of cancer immune therapy, intensive research activities are also happening in the area of personalised medicine. On one hand, new medications are tested in studies, on the other, new predicative biomarkers are developed which allows the assessment of the individual response to a therapy in advance. The fact that they are generally very agreeable is a great advantage of these target-oriented therapies.

Revolutionary successes in leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma
"During the past two to three years, no stone has been left unturned in the field of haematologically malignant illnesses", explains Ulrich Jäger, Manager of the Clinical Division for Haematology and Hemostaseology at the University Clinic for Internal Medicine I of the MedUni Vienna/AKH Vienna. Revolutionary advances were achieved in various forms of cancer, particularly in acute and chronic lymphatic leukaemia, multiple myeloma, acute myeloid leukaemia and Morbus Hodgkin. This drastically increases the survival rate and/or chances of healing in certain patient groups also in advanced cancer stages.

Cell therapy with CAR (Chimaric Antigen Receptor) T cells represents an entirely new therapy approach in the treatment of B cell tumours. In the process, a CD19 receptor, which recognises malignant B cells, is planted into normal T cells of a patient by way of a virus. Remission rates of 100 percent could be realised in case of children suffering from acute lymphatic leukaemia where all hope had been lost. In case of adults with diffuse, large-cell B cell lymphoma, half of the patients are nevertheless in complete remission. The Medical University Vienna, together with the St. Anna Children's Hospital, is one of only nine centres in Europe participating in a study of this method. The first patient was only admitted recently.

Chances of healing breast cancer continue to increase
The introduction of new immunotherapies in combination with an anti-hormonal therapy provides an innovative chemotherapy-free approach for the treatment of the hormone-receptor-positive carcinoma (luminal-B-carcinoma). This type of tumour affects approx. 40 to 60 percent of patients, particularly woman after menopause.

In patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, which represents approx. 12 to 15 percent of all breast cancer cases, the application options of the available medications are consistently better characterised. Under certain circumstances, the chances of healing and the quality of life are significantly improved.

"Furthermore, options of personalised medicine are currently tested at the Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) of the MedUni Vienna and AKH Vienna. These approaches allow the prognoses of which patients best profit from which therapy", so Günther Steger, Program Director for breast cancer of the Clinical Division for Oncology, University Clinic for Internal Medicine I of the MedUni Vienna / AKH Vienna.

Support for people affected and relatives
"Cancer patients as well as their relatives are confronted with many challenges and problems", warns Paul Sevelda, Chairman of the Gynaecology and Obstetrics Division in the Hospital Vienna-Hietzing, President of the Austrian Cancer Foundation. As well as psychological and physical pressure, they are increasingly faced with economic issues. "Cancer patients have to be protected from sliding into financial hardship due to the illness, either due to the loss of the workplace because they are no longer or not immediately capable of working at 100 percent", so Sevelda. For this reason, the Cancer Foundation has demanded for many years a legal regulation regarding the gradual re-entry into the job following cancer or the option of part-time sick leave. A further pivotal necessity is the expansion of hospice and palliative facilities in order to provide people also in advanced cancer stages with a dignified and pain-free life until the end. Krebshilfe (Cancer Foundation), Hospiz Österreich (Hospice Austria) and the Österreichische Palliativgesellschaft (Austrian Palliative Association) issued a brochure listing all help facilities and establishments per federal state together with contact data.

Date: Cancer day on 9 February 2016 in Vienna
"Education, information and exchange of experiences are extremely important for cancer patients and their relatives", believes also Gabriela Kornek, President of the "Leben mit Krebs" (Living with cancer) Association, Manager of the Cancer School CCC Vienna and Medical Director of the AKH Vienna. For this reason, the association "Living with Cancer" regularly organises information events. The next date is Cancer day 2016 at the Vienna City Hall on Tuesday, 9 February from 11:00 to 16:00 h with a comprehensive presentation program. The broad spectrum of therapy options in breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer treatments as well as new treatment options in leukaemia are the focus of the event. However, also associated topics, such as rehabilitation, vaccinations and the thrombosis risk with cancer shall be addressed. During the Cancer day, it will not only medical experts who shall provide first-hand information, but also members of the self-help groups of the Austrian Cancer Foundation Vienna, Europe Donna Austria, Mamma Mia – self-help in case of breast cancer, multiple myeloma self-help, myeloma and lymphoma help, platform for testicular cancer and self-help for bowel cancer shall be at the event for personal questions. Entry is free. All presentations of the information day can be viewed in the Internet under www.leben-mit-krebs.at.