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Sascha Roth was in her late 30s and feeling great. Then she noticed some bleeding when she used the bathroom. She went to see a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed her with rectal cancer. Her doctor, she recalled, “was as shocked as I was.”

A friend who had had colon cancer insisted Roth see her surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. That led to her becoming patient no. 1 in a study that is a striking example of the importance of efforts to test cancer drugs in earlier stages of disease.

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