Sharing some interesting Breakthrough Cancer Treatments….“Cancer immuno-therapy to the rescue.
This radical new approach is saving lives…
It seems like every week there’s a promising new cancer treatment—that never happens. Too often we read about a new theoretical approach that saves lives in one or two studies…only to wait and wait for the treatment to materialize in the practice of cancer medicine. This time is different.
Now the powerful cancer-fighting drugs are not theoretical or another case of over hyping, over promising and under-delivering. These medications really do work. This new way of fighting cancer uses the body’s own immune system to wage war on cancer cells. Many leading cancer experts believe this approach, known as cancer immuno-therapy, could revolutionize how we treat many forms of cancer.
When it comes to certain cancers, the revolution has already begun. In fact, former President Jimmy Carter, 91, is now said to be “cancer free” (based on MRI scans) after using one of these drugs for the melanoma that spread to his brain.
The new treatments aren’t about enhancing immunity in general. Instead, this is an intriguing approach that can prevent cancerous tumours from hijacking our own immune defences—so that our amazing immune system can do its job.
6 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Here are the details on this latest form of cancer immuno-therapy…
- It treats the body’s immune system so the immune system can fight the cancer. T cells are the immune system’s main line of defences, but they’re not always effective against cancer cells. In the 1990’s, cancer researchers identified a class of molecules in the body that are known as immune checkpoints. These molecules keep T cells from attacking normal cells, but cancer cells can hijack them for their own purposes. Cancer cells employ immune “checkpoints” to turn off killer T cells that would otherwise recognize and destroy a cancer that was growing in a person’s body. Drugs that block these checkpoints so T cells can do their job are game changers called immune checkpoint inhibitors.
- It still has side effects, but early results suggest a less toxic experience. All of us would love to see a day when very toxic chemotherapy agents that cause hair loss, low blood counts, fatigue, etc., are no longer the backbone of therapy for cancer. With checkpoint inhibitors, there will potentially be fewer side effects and certainly different ones. So far, the most common side effects caused by checkpoint inhibitors already in use include fatigue, cough, nausea, skin rash and itching. But more serious side effects including severe diarrhoea, colitis and intestinal inflammation (even perforation) have also been reported.
- It can be very effective and long-lasting. Consider the effects of checkpoint inhibitors against end-stage Hodgkin’s disease, where patients had already received every imaginable therapy and were running out of hope. More than 90% of these patients went into remissions, many of them complete. When checkpoint inhibitors are combined against metastatic melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer—more than half of those cancers are eliminated or controlled, with benefits that have lasted for many years in some cases.
- It works against many forms of cancer. In a viewpoint recently published in JAMA, James Allison, PhD, who pioneered the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors against cancer, wrote: “The therapy does not target the tumour cell but rather engages a target on the patient’s immune system. Thus, there is no inherent reason that it would not be successful against a wide variety of tumours.”
At this time, checkpoint inhibitors are FDA approved for treating only certain types of melanoma and lung cancer. But studies show that they also work against no fewer than 20 different cancers, including certain forms of kidney cancer, triple negative breast cancer, stomach cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, bladder cancer and head and neck cancer.
- It is very expensive. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more to have a course of therapy with these drugs, especially if you start combining them with other expensive cancer therapies. (See below for more details on insurance coverage.)
- It is still evolving. One promising innovation in cancer immuno-therapy that is currently being researched is chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. In this case, a patient’s T cells are genetically engineered to produce antibodies against a specific type of cancer. When these T cells proliferate, they pass their cancer-killing modifications along.
So far, this experimental treatment has had outstanding results against a hard-to-treat and deadly form of leukaemia called acute lymphocytic leukaemia.
What’s available now…
While many checkpoint inhibitors are in development, currently only three have been approved by the FDA…
- Opdivo (nivolumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) are approved for advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer that has spread and that is not responding to conventional platinum-based chemotherapy…and for advanced melanoma.
- Yervoy (ipilimumab) is approved for melanoma that has spread within the body (metastasised) or that cannot be removed by surgery.
Until new drugs for different cancers make it through the FDA approval process—or the existing approved ones get future approvals for different cancers—these are the only three of this type of cancer treatment that insurance companies or Medicare are likely to cover. If you have the financial wherewithal, you may be able to have your doctor prescribe the approved drugs off-label and pay for them yourself.
For everyone else, however, there is another potential option. If there is an immuno-therapy cancer drug in development for a cancer that you are being treated for, ask your oncologist whether there is a clinical trial that you can join. You can also check the website ClinicalTrials.gov.”
Source: Louis Weiner, MD, director, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He is an internationally recognized medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers. His lab researches novel immunotherapy treatments.