Healthline: Immunotherapy

Healthline: Immunotherapy

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The secret to fighting cancer could be hiding inside our own bodies. Immunotherapy has changed the way doctors approach some hard-to-treat forms of the disease.
It was a simple sinus infection that sent Wanda Poche to the doctor about two years ago.

"The prognosis no one could expect," Poche remembered.

Within a month she would get the news: stage four lung cancer. The five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.

"I love to fish and I love to dance, and I hope to do a lot of it," Poche said with a smile.

She's not worried thanks to immunotherapy that's been successful so far. She had previously tried six months of chemotherapy that did nothing to shrink her tumor.

Medical oncologist Vince Cataldo, M.D. recommended a new drug called Opdivo. Like chemo it's also infused through an IV, but this immunotherapy drug targets the immune system rather than going after the cancer cells.

"In order to protect us against our own immune system becoming too powerful, we have our own brakes on our immune system," Cataldo explained. "These drugs actually remove the brakes and allow for the immune system to go unchecked."

The hope is that the immune system will then learn to recognize the cancer cells and eradicate them from the body.

"It won't work for everything. We certainly know that there will be cancers that are resistant to this form of treatment," Cataldo said.

When it does work it's a game-changer. Poche's cancer disappeared without any side effects, although immunotherapy can cause serious inflammation in other organs.

It's also important not to over-hype drugs like Opdivo. They're new, expensive, and heavily promoted. More studies are needed, and Congress just approved $1.8 billion to accelerate cancer research.

"For certain malignancies that's a possibility that one day we won't be offering traditional forms of chemotherapy. We may very well be offering immunotherapy as a front-line therapy for those cancers," Cataldo said.

It's uncharted territory being charted every day, and Poche is glad she took a chance.

"If people are not having success with traditional chemotherapy, and it's a viable option, by all means take it," she said. "It saved my life."
Contact Dr. Cataldo through Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center.

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