Doctor explains life-saving kidney cancer immunotherapy

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The first sign something was terribly wrong was two blood clots Mark Lanier coughed up while driving one day in April of 2014. As a nurse, he knew his health was in serious jeopardy and immediately went to the hospital. Soon after, he learned he had kidney cancer and that it had spread to his lungs.

"I didn't think I'd see my birthday in September of that year," said Lanier.

While renal cancer, also known as kidney cancer, is one of the rarer cancers, it's also one of the deadliest. However, Lanier beat it. He's been cancer free for four years thanks to an immunotherapy treatment called Interleukin-2, IL2.

"Basically, it stimulates the body's immune system to fight the tumor and you see responses for up to a year after the treatment," explained hematologist, Dr. Gerald Miletello.

IL2 immunotherapy has been around for more than two decades, but most doctors gave up on it as a viable option because side effects in the early years were difficult to manage. As a Baton Rouge General Hospital physician, Miletello says he saw huge potential in the treatment and became obsessed. For nearly 20 years, he's studied and perfected the treatment, and now successfully treats patients who qualify.

The treatment is delivered through an infusion in an inpatient setting over a week. There are usually about four rounds of treatment, with a break in the middle to monitor the patient's progress. If the patient responds, treatment continues. If not, the patient can pursue other treatments such as chemotherapy.

Miletello says now the side effects, like fever and fluid retention, are predictable and manageable. Also, unlike other immunotherapies, Miletello says once a patient completes their four rounds, they're done. The doctor says patients who were once given months to live are now surviving decades.

"This is the only potential for long term survival. It really is," said Miletello.

However, not every patient qualifies for IL2. Miletello says it works best with patients who are otherwise in good health. Lanier admits the infusions were intense, but he believes they're worth considering. "I can't imagine anyone who has what I had, not having the treatment I had," said Lanier.

Baton Rouge General is one of just a handful of hospitals in the southeast to offer IL2 as a treatment. The treatment is also covered by insurance.

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