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Immunotherapy and Hope

Posted 8/1/2016

Posted in

  You have probably heard a lot about immunotherapy, a promising research direction in cancer. From CancerNet comes this definition:

Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses substances either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. Immunotherapy may work in the following 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

Non-specific immunotherapies

Oncolytic virus therapy

T-cell therapy

Cancer vaccines

The catch is that there has been a great deal of hype and hope, but not so much real success. Everyone with whom I talk believes that there is a very big future in this kind of treatment, but that we aren't there yet. In the meantime, it can be hard for a patient or someone who loves a patient to sort out what is reasonable, realistic, and wise.

  This essay from The New York Times speaks to this:

Immunotherapy Offers Hope to
a Cancer Patient, but No Certainty

Drawing on his immune system to fight Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
my friend saw a stunning improvement. Then came the relapses.

DENVER — A cancer patient nicknamed the Steel Bull got his death sentence on a gloomy March Wednesday in 2015.
He was 47, his given name Jason Greenstein, but he had earned the moniker from his oncologist for his stubborn will during more than four years of brutal chemotherapy and radiation treatment — all of which had failed.
That Wednesday, March 4, his left side bulged with 15 pounds of tumor, doubling in size every few weeks. Lumps of Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells swelled in his lungs, making it hard to breathe, impinging a nerve and nearly paralyzing his left hand. Yet Mr. Greenstein, ever the optimist, was not prepared for his doctor’s frank words when he displayed his latest symptom: tumors along his right jawline, the first spread of cancer to that side.
The oncologist, Dr. Mark Brunvand, said he excused himself to the hallway to gather his emotions. When he returned a moment later, he looked Mr. Greenstein in the eye. “You are going to die,” he remembers saying. “And because you’re my friend, it’s my job to make you as comfortable as possible.” Behind the doctor stood Mr. Greenstein’s case manager, Poppy Beethe, crying.
In a note to himself afterward, Dr. Brunvand described further treatment as “more toxic than beneficial,” and
unwarranted “unless he has dramatic response.”


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