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Merck said Thursday that giving its drug Keytruda immediately after surgery significantly reduced the risk of relapse of kidney cancer in patients who had their tumors removed.

The new clinical trial results make Keytruda the first immunotherapy to show a benefit for this early stage of kidney cancer treatment called the adjuvant setting. Currently, the class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors are used for patients with more advanced kidney cancer — after it has recurred and spread to other parts of the body.

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But success in an adjuvant trial may not convince all doctors to change treatment practices — at least not right away. Survival data from the Merck study are still immature, so it will take more time to determine if using Keytruda right after kidney cancer surgery helps patients live longer. The treatment is also expensive and causes more side effects.

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