Experimental immunotherapies now sometimes replace chemo as a treatment for cancers
Long word. Comparatively short history.
But one suddenly filled with lots of promise about fighting cancer.
A recent story by Denise Grady in The New York Times deals with how a patient's own immune cells may now help — even when standard treatments fail.
The experimental treatment, according to the article, has resulted in "remarkable stories of tumors melting away and terminal illnesses going into remissions that last years."
Those stories, Grady writes, are backed "by solid data [and] have led to an explosion of interest and billions of dollars of investments…Pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and the federal government's 'cancer moonshot' program are pouring money into developing treatments."
The explosion, the story continues, "has brought new optimism to cancer doctors — a sense they they have begun tapping into a force of nature, the medical equivalent of splitting the atom."
|Dr. Jedd Wolchok|
Immunotherapy — which "tries to help the immune system recognize cancer as a threat, and attack it" — now sometimes replaces chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells more directly.
Two new techniques stand out.
The first "creates a new, individualized treatment for each patient by removing some of the person's immune cells, altering them genetically to kill cancer and then infusing them back into the bloodstream."
The second involves mass-produced drugs (called checkpoint inhibitors) "that do not have to be tailored to each patient. [They block] a mechanism — called a checkpoint — that cancer uses to shut down the immune system."
Those drugs are not cheap — they cost about $150,000 a year.
And that's not the biggest downside.
Grady notes that "immunotherapy has worked in only a minority of patients, and researchers are struggling to find out why."
Immunotherapy and other treatment innovations are addressed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.
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