A Former President, Actress & Doctors See Hope in Keytruda
A few weeks ago, Jimmy Carter announced that the four cancer spots on his brain have… well, vanished! His cancerous liver tumor which is believed to be the seed of his cancer was gone as well. Poof! The small Sunday school class where he shared this good news was overjoyed. Those in attendance called it a “miracle.”
Stories like the one of our 91-year-old former President, where patients are seeing unbelievable results in the treatment of their brain cancers, is growing more and more common place in the media. Actress Valerie Harper is yet another recent example. Last summer we wrote of the Duke University clinical trial of a therapy that uses a re-engineered polio virus to kill cancer cells. Yes, a polio virus. The early results on treating glioblastomas were nothing short of remarkable. Some patients in the trial saw their tumors “vanish” as well.
As our Michael Matters Foundation board member doctors will tell you, it’s wise to use caution and patience when discussing new brain cancer treatments and drugs. Expectations should be tempered. However, the new Merck drug, Keytruda, President Carter used is one more reason to be hopeful.
Keytruda is an example of the newest category of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. In short, immunotherapy helps doctors harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to fight the advancement of cancer cells. In order for cancer cells to develop, they develop the ability to actually escape the immune system, either they stop expressing normal receptors at their surface (and therefore fail to be recognized) or they, on the opposite end, express too much of a key surface protein that will lead the lymphatic system’s T-cells to become overwhelmed and “give up.” Immunotherapy helps the patient’s system outwit both of the ways cancer avoids detection.
Brain Cancer Treatments Offer Cautious Optimism
While there is a sense of optimism with these and other exciting brain cancer treatments, it’s just as important to remember that not everyone responds the same to these treatments, and the research is still out on the side effects and recurrence rates. However, there does seem to be a genuine feeling of optimism that these exciting treatment advancements will someday lead to prevention or a cure.