Patients with advanced cancers have new hope thanks to immunotherapy.
It’s a therapy that trains the body’s own immune system to search out and destroy the cancer cells. Researchers say they’ve found an accurate way to screen the patients who may respond well to this treatment.
For 25-year-old Stefanie Joho, her three sisters and parents are her world. Three years ago Stefanie’s doctor ordered a colonoscopy; she had a family history of cancer and hadn’t been well for months.
Stefanie explained, “I woke up and I’ve never seen a doctor so white in the face. He was just shocked at what he discovered. I had a really large mass in my colon.”
Stefanie had stage four colon cancer; two surgeries and rounds of chemo had little effect.
“I was ready to give up. The reason I didn’t was my family. They would not let me,” she explained.
Dung Le, MD, Oncologist at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore is studying immunotherapy. She and her colleagues have found that advanced cancer patients with a certain DNA defect called a mismatched repair gene may have the best response.
Dr. Le explained, “It actually doesn’t matter what the disease type is. It depends on that mismatch repair deficiency.”
Dr. Le says these patients respond best to drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. They allow the immune system to fight the cancer.
“That’s the beauty of immunotherapy and that’s the hope. That these responses continue, even after you stop immunotherapy,” Dr. Le said.
After months of treatment, Stefanie says this is the best she’s felt in years. She’s ready to start a new chapter.
“It’s incredible to just feel like a 25-year-old. I didn’t know what that felt like for a while,” Stefanie said.
After months of immunotherapy, Stefanie’s tumor shrank by 65 percent. She has now stabilized, meaning the tumor is not growing. In a recently published small study of patients, Dr. Le found that 92 percent of the patients responded to the immunotherapy treatment. Le says that larger clinical trials are necessary to assess the full potential of the drugs for clinical use. The immunotherapy treatment is for patients who have tried and failed with other cancer regimens.