Immunotherapy as a last resort for terminal cancer patients

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Immunotherapy patient Jason Greenstein. Image credit: Nick Cote for The New York Times

Dr. Oliver Sartor has a provocative question for patients who are running out of time. Most are dying of prostate cancer. They have tried every standard treatment, to no avail. New immunotherapy drugs, which can work miracles against a few types of cancer, are not known to work for this kind.

Still, Dr. Sartor, assistant dean for oncology at Tulane Medical School, asks a diplomatic version of this: Do you want to try an immunotherapy drug before you die? The chance such a drug will help is vanishingly small — but not zero.

The promise of immunotherapy has drawn cancer specialists into a conundrum. When the drugs work, a cancer may seem to melt away overnight. But little is known about which patients might benefit, and from which drugs.

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Some oncologists choose not to mention immunotherapy to dying patients, arguing that scientists first must gather rigorous evidence about the benefits and pitfalls, and that treating patients experimentally outside a clinical trial is perilous business.

But immunotherapy is like no cancer treatment ever seen. It can work no matter what kind of tumor a person has.

[Recent news] brought a yet another example of the surprising power of this approach. Lung cancer patients who normally would receive only chemotherapy lived longer when immunotherapy was added.

Read full, original post: ‘Desperation Oncology’: When Patients Are Dying, Some Cancer Doctors Turn to Immunotherapy

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