• Fighting Cancer and Immunotherapy: New Treatment options

    Cancer

    October 1, 2017

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    Living Fully

    “WHEN TESTING showed that my melanoma had metastasized to my lymph nodes, I was expecting to hear, ‘Your cancer has metastasized; there is no treatment,’ so I was shocked to hear, ‘You have metastatic melanoma, and there are some exciting new treatments.’”

    It’s true that when Jim Tyler was first diagnosed with melanoma in 2011, for which he had surgery, there was only the promise of new life-extending treatments on the horizon. So when a new lesion appeared in 2015, he was excited to be one of the first patients at Bassett Cancer Institute to receive a new immunotherapy drug. His oncologist told him that a new drug, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), was being used to help those with certain metastatic melanomas and other cancers. On July 8, 2015, Tyler had his first infusion, which continued every three weeks for 13 months, ending in August 2016 after 19 treatments.

     

    CARING COLLABORATION

    Tyler, 74, kept to his normal routine, although he did cut down a bit on his rigorous gardening schedule and land stewardship of 70 acres at his home in Unadilla.

    “During this time, my wife and I were able to take our planned road trip to Nebraska, which we do every fall,” Tyler says. “When I was traveling, the cancer center team at Bassett made arrangements with a local cancer center for me to get infusions out there. Everyone—every single infusion nurse and every doctor— made a special point to help make it happen, to help me do all the family things that I love to do.”

    “That’s a big part of having cancer, and that’s what success looks like— just keeping your life going,” he says.

    “In doing all we can and doing the best for our patients, there is often strength in the collaboration with other cancer centers that see large numbers of people with advanced melanoma,” says Anush Patel, MD, Bassett’s division chief of hematology and oncology.

    Tyler’s care team includes doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who work closely with Dr. Patel and the Bassett Cancer Institute team to provide the best, most comprehensive care.

    STAYING POSITIVE

    Every three-month scanning had been clear, but late in the summer of 2016, a scan showed tumors in lymph glands in several spots.

    Since some immunotherapy treatments have a reduction in effectiveness after long periods of time,

    Tyler was started on an oral chemotherapy treatment. He continued that regimen until a scan in the spring of 2017 showed an intestinal tumor, for which he had surgery in April. He was up and walking a day after surgery. Tyler is currently on a combination of two new medications. “I’ve been thankful that the immunotherapy treatments have extended my life and have kept tumors from my vital organs,” he says.

    “The positiveness from people I’ve met through my experience is like a gift that was given to me. I am just enjoying the journey, as life is sometimes uncertain. When you have cancer, the fight is really about the ability to live your life in a healthy, positive way. Cancer can never really defeat you if you’ve been living fully…life the way you want to live it.”

    Fighting cancer with immunotherapy

    Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. Immunotherapy may work in these ways: 

    • Stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells. 
    • Stopping cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. 
    • Helping the immune system work better at destroying cancer cells.

    There are several types of immunotherapy, including monoclonal antibodies, nonspecific immunotherapies, oncolytic virus therapy, T-cell therapy and cancer vaccines.