Oncologists are on the brink of some dramatic new developments in innovative cancer treatments, and many of them are happening here in Boston. Thirty-eight thousand oncology professionals from around the world recently gathered in Chicago for the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual convention to preview the latest developments.

Dr. Hal Burstein, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and physician at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, attended the meeting and shared some of the most exciting takeaways with WGBH’s Morning Edition host Bob Seay.

Here are the highlights:

Technology-based care

A new report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that patients with advanced cancer who used a web-based digital interface to report symptoms to their doctors experienced a better quality of life, had fewer ER visits and even lived longer. This new innovative approach to communication between doctor and patient will hasten their opportunity to provide care in real time.


Immunotherapy is also quickly evolving. Patients with a class of tumors that are “DNA mismatch repair abnormal” – a characteristic in a small percentage among numerous types of cancers  – have hope in a recently approved immunotherapy that's proven to be very effective. Burstein says this new breakthrough leads to more opportunities for oncologists to use immunotherapy and more exciting molecular diagnostic testing of tumors.

Personalized Cancer Treatment

Oncologists are increasingly testing patients to find hereditary contributors that play a role in the development of their cancer. A new class of drugs called PARP inhibitors could be more effective than traditional chemotherapy for women with hereditary cancer syndromes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, a mutation that actress Angelina Jolie had.

“That’s going to open the door to a whole new class of personalized therapies for women with these hereditary breast cancers,” Burstein said.

If Hollywood is the home of the movie industry… Boston really is the home of academic medical research.

A New England-based company,LoxoOncology, has created a new class of a targeted therapies that can attack a protein abnormality and possibly shrink up to 80 percent of cancer cells. Burstein is certain it will receive approval from the FDA because its small testing sample has proven to be so successful. 

Wondering how long you’ll have to wait until these treatments become available? You're in luck, because you won’t have to wait long at all. Burstein says they’re already using these new treatments and therapies in clinics.

“I know every time you ask a cancer doctor about the future, they’re always really rosy-eyed and they say ‘we’re going to have newer and better things’ but honestly, in real time, our patients are benefiting from all sorts of new drugs”. 

To listen to the entire interview with Dr. Hal Burstein and WGBH's Morning Edition host Bob Seay, click the audio player above.