The nation has been buzzing recently over what sounds like miraculous news for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The 91-year-old Carter announced he is cancer-free, just months after revealing he was battling malignant melanoma, which had spread.
In August, he had a cancerous mass removed from his liver. Four lesions were then found on his brain and were treated with radiation. Additionally, Carter was given a relatively new immunotherapy drug, called pembrolizumab.
Pembrolizumab is one of the first immunotherapy drugs. Instead of killing cancer cells, these drugs boost the immune system to do the job. The theory behind immunotherapy has been around for decades, but it is only in very recent years that scientists have been able to put it into practice with, so far, just a couple of remarkably successful drugs.
In an interview with Healthline News, Roxana Dronca, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., likened the situation to a battlefield.
“The T cell soldiers come to the battle and want to fight,” she said, “but when they arrive they are useless.” Keytruda blocks the activity of the proteins, allowing the immune system and its T cells to go after the tumor.
Indeed, the prognosis for Carter may have been much more grim if he had been diagnosed with late-stage melanoma just two years earlier. But the former president’s recent announcement in Plains that he is cancer-free comes after decades of trial and error by researchers, including those at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.
Dr. Markovic says combinations of immunologic treatments that use the body's own disease-fighting abilities, targeted therapies that focus on the genetic makeup of specific tumors and conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy have given patients much more reason to be hopeful. “One is hard-pressed to find another example, in all of medicine, where there has been such a tremendous revolution in the success of therapy, as [there] has been in melanoma."
While health experts agree that it’s too early to pronounce Carter cured from cancer, it’s entirely possible, at Carter’s age of 91, that he will die with it, rather than from it.
In the following video, Dr. Markovic, explains how a combinations of immunologic treatments that use the body's own disease-fighting abilities, targeted therapies that focus on the genetic makeup of specific tumors and conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy have given melanoma patients much more reason to be hopeful.
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