Sascha Roth figured that when have cancer in your colon and lymph nodes and your oncologist calls you after business hours, two days before you’re scheduled to begin a brutal five-week course of radiation therapy, it’s probably not good news—especially when the first thing she says is, “Are you sitting down?”

Roth was the first patient that enrolled into a clinical trial to test a new immunotherapy drug, designed to unleash the body’s natural immune response on the tumor cells, on patients with early stage cancers. The results were miraculous: One hundred percent of the patients went into total remission—perhaps the first time that’s ever happened in any cancer clinical trial, according to Luis Diaz, head of the division of solid tumor oncology in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Department of Medicine and a designer of the trial. The trial suggested the new therapies, if delivered early enough, might not only obviate the need for traditional therapies notorious for their brutal side effects, like chemo, radiation and surgery. They could potentially cure the disease altogether.

Roth’s doctor was jubilant: “We’ve reviewed all your scans, biopsies—everything,” she says the doctor told her. “There is zero sign of cancer. We can’t radiate you knowing there’s no cancer in your body.”

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