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Still a Role for Chemo

There's still a role for chemotherapy in the age of personalized medicine, NPR reports.

"We're in a transition state right now where the types of available treatments are changing," Robert Comis, an oncologist at Drexel University, says. "But we can't lose sight of the fact that cytotoxic chemotherapy has cured many, many patients."

He and others tell NPR that chemotherapy is often used in combination with newer approaches. Chemotherapy, NPR notes, is being be used to put the brakes on fast-growing tumors to give newer treatments like immunotherapy time to work. In clinical trials where immunotherapies don't always work, the treatments are often given in combination with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy also appears to bolster the immune system in some situations that researchers hope to exploit. A few decades ago, Comis tested radiation therapy in combination with two cycles of chemotherapy, which isn't enough to be effective, but he found that the patients did better than expected with the addition of chemotherapy. Similarly, he's found more recently that adding chemotherapy to a metastatic prostate cancer regimen increased survival by more than a year. 

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