For decades, chemotherapy has been the main treatment used to prolong the lives of cancer sufferers, but scientists believe a new kind of treatment could completely transform how we tackle the disease.
Immunotherapy, which involves harnessing the body's own immune system to attack cancerous cells in the same way it would attack a virus, is able to completely stop cancer in its tracks in more than half of cases.
It's given to patients in the form of a combination therapy of two drugs – ipilimumab and nivolumab, and in an international trial they were found to prevent skin cancer from advancing for at least a year in 58 per cent of cases.
At a conference in Chicago scientists heralded these results as “spectacular”, since chemotherapy drugs tend to offer much smaller improvements in health, giving sufferers just months and in some cases weeks of extra life.
Professor Peter Johnson, director of medical oncology at Cancer Research UK, said: "The evidence suggests we are at the beginning of a whole new era for cancer treatments."
His colleague, Dr Alan Worsley, added that the drugs could “release the brakes on the immune system while blocking cancer's ability to hide from it."
He added, however, that treatments should be combined with caution, since the practice can increase the chance of suffering sever side effects: "Identifying which patients are most likely to benefit will be key to bringing our best weapons to bear against the disease."