Recently, new immunotherapy treatments for cancer have produced complete remissions in some cases.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease.
After one Month Clinical Trial Ohio Woman is Free of Cancer
ABC News reported that a woman in Ohio is totally free of cancer after one month of treatment in a new immunotherapy clinical trial. Denise Keenan had suffered over the past 10 years with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had undergone several failed cancer treatments. Pet scans showed that the cancer had spread to her lungs and chest, but in August Denise was accepted into a clinical trial at Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospital in Cleveland. The clinical trial used a new treatment called CAR T-cell Therapy. The CAR T-cell therapy was delivered with a single syringe containing T-cells that had been modified with a virus to deliver them to seek out and destroy cancer cells. This is a real breakthrough and University Hospital is the first one in the United States to do a trial like this from their own lab. The hope now is that this treatment will last, but as this is all very new, no one really knows the answer to this. Also, not all patients respond so favorably to CAR-T-cells.
Pittsburgh Woman Totally Cured of Cancer
In a similar story, Shari Kienzle a Pittsburgh woman, was also diagnosed with a common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). As her cancer had not responded to chemotherapy and in fact was becoming more aggressive, she was referred to a new immunotherapy treatment also for CAR-T cell therapy called Yescarta at the Hillman Cancer Center of the University of Pittsburgh.
Yescarta is a kind of immunotherapy made from a patient’s own immune system. T-cells are extracted from a patient’s own white blood cells that undergo a genetically engineered process, so that when they are put back into the patient by infusion they go out and attack and destroy cancer cells. Shari went into complete remission.
Side Effects to Yescarta
However, in Shari’s case she had very severe side effects to this new Yescarta treatment which put her into a coma for four days followed by a few weeks in intensive care at UPMC Shadyside. However, a PET-CT scan just 30 days after she received the infusion showed she had gone into complete remission.
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment for cancer that uses the person’s own immune system of white blood cells as well as organs and tissues of the lymph system to find and destroy cancer cells.
Kinds of Immunotherapy
The National Cancer Institute lists the following kinds of immunotherapy:
- Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that assist the immune system to respond more aggressively against a tumor.
- Adoptive cell transfer boosts the person’s own T cells to fight cancer. CAR T-Cell Therapy listed in the two successful treatments above is a type of adoptive cell transfer.
- Monoclonal antibodies are proteins of the immune system that are made in the lab and are formulated to attach to certain targets found on the walls of cancer cells.
- Treatment vaccines boost the response of a person’s immune system to cancer cells.
- Cytokines such as interferons and interleukins are proteins naturally made in the cells of the body that have an important role in helping the immune system to respond to cancer.
- BCG or Bacillus Calmette-Guerin is a kind of immunotherapy used to treat cancer of the bladder.
Side Effects of Immunotherapy
Very rarely, immunotherapies can cause serious and even fatal allergic reactions.
More common side effects are pain, itching, redness, swelling and a rash around the needle site.
In some cases a person will get side effects that resemble the flu like fever, chills, weakness and fatigue, dizziness, nausea, pains in the muscles and joints, headache, difficulty breathing and changes in blood pressure – either too low or too high. Sometimes there may also be diarrhea, sinus problems, palpitations of the heart and swelling and weight gain from fluid retention.
There may also be a real risk of developing an infection.
Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care
If you or your loved one are in need of short-term rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing care after cancer surgery or treatments, the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York provides short-term rehabilitation and long-term skilled nursing care to people who need higher levels of medical and nursing services.
The results of some of these clinical trials for immunotherapy are very encouraging, but more research is needed, as not all people afflicted with cancer respond to these kinds of treatments. It is to be hoped that more research and more trials will put an end once and for all to this dread disease.