Immunotherapy rocks or, in the more restrained but equally enthusiastic language of Science Magazine, “Cancer Immunotherapy is the Medical Breakthrough of 2013.” From a press release,
“The editors of Science magazine picked cancer immunotherapy as 2013’s major medical breakthrough achievement. Cancer immunotherapy is the use of the immune system to fight cancer. This is done by stimulating the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. According to an article on NewsObserver.com, “Scientists have thought for decades that harnessing the immune system to battle tumors should be possible, but it has been incredibly difficult to make it work.”
“So far, this strategy of harnessing the immune system to attack tumours works only for some cancers and a few patients, so it’s important not to overstate the immediate benefits. But many cancer specialists are convinced that they are seeing the birth of an important new paradigm for cancer treatment,” said Tim Appenzeller, chief news editor of Science magazine (1).
Cancer researchers say that they “have turned a corner because two different techniques are helping a subset of patients. One involves antibodies that release a brake on (or stimulate) T cells (a type of white blood cell), giving them the power to tackle tumors. Another involves genetically modifying an individual’s T cells outside the body so that they are better able to target cancer, and then re-infusing them so they can do just that. (2).
I love being cutting edge but I love more the prospect of living with this disease versus dying from it. As a cancer patient who has experienced treatment that didn’t work (scary!), the jury stays out on how I will respond to immunotherapy. My fingers stay crossed.
As the Science Magazine experts themselves debated,
“In celebrating cancer immunotherapy—harnessing the immune system to battle tumors—did we risk hyping an approach whose ultimate impact remains unknown? Were we irresponsible to label as a breakthrough a strategy that has touched a tiny fraction of cancer patients and helped only some of them? What do we mean when we call something a breakthrough, anyway?”
But then they went on to say, “Ultimately, we concluded, cancer immunotherapy passes the test. It does so because this year, clinical trials have cemented its potential in patients and swayed even the skeptics. The field hums with stories of lives extended: the woman with a grapefruit-size tumor in her lung from melanoma, alive and healthy 13 years later; the 6-year-old near death from leukemia, now in third grade and in remission; the man with metastatic kidney cancer whose disease continued fading away even after treatment stopped.
As the anecdotes coalesce into data, there’s another layer, too, a sense of paradigms shifting. Immunotherapy marks an entirely different way of treating cancer—by targeting the immune system, not the tumor itself. Oncologists, a grounded-in-reality bunch, say a corner has been turned and we won’t be going back.”
The full text of their thinking is fascinating and worth a read. It is time to celebrate the promise of immunotherapy.
To access my clinical trial took endurance. I not only had to be clinically stable but I needed to countdown to my start date for Medicare, a wonderful government run insurance plan that allowed me to have costs covered even if my care was in Philadelphia. Effective January 1, 2014 the Affordable Care Act (which contains many great improvements even as the rollout leaves us cursing – Oregon being one of the worst states for enrollment fiascos) removes barriers for cancer patients choosing to access clinical trials in state or out of state. Please check out this boring but highly informative webinar that explains cancer care and the affordable care act to look at the list of ways your treatment obstacles may be being reduced right now. Spread the word.
If you know someone seeking a clinical trial I direct you to this resource that I first posted last July.
Finding a Clinical Trial Just Got Easier BY JON GARINN
By almost any measure, clinicaltrials.gov, the website administered by the National Institutes of Health, sets the standard for providing public access to comprehensive information from around the world about research on experimental treatments for an array of diseases and conditions. Yet, despite more than a decade of efforts to improve its functionality, simplify access to its database and synthesize its information, navigating the site can be a challenge.
That’s why a Florida doctor teamed with healthcare professionals from dozens of medical centers, research institutes and medical schools to develop MyClinicalTrialLocator. MyClinicalTrialLocator.com, a site designed to make searching for a trial easier.
Designed for patients as well as medical professionals, the site not only utilizes the government database for clinical trial information but also includes important updates from medical centers conducting the research and enables users to search for trials anywhere in the world. In addition to studies of drugs and medications, the site also details studies of medical devices, procedures and interventions, and lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, diet and exercise. Users simply enter the name of their condition, their location and the distance they are willing to travel. Listings provide a plain-language summary of the trial, including recruitment information, eligibility criteria and contact details.
The service is free, and access is open to any user, though visitors are encouraged to establish an account so that they can save their searches and receive customized email updates and automatic notifications based on their search criteria. To learn more, visit MyClinicalTrialLocator.com.
There is also http://www.cancertrialshelp.org/cancer-trial-search/.
Go find the best match for you or your loved one. xo marcy