"Cancer immunotherapy has life-saving powers — and limits" PBS NewsHour 2/8/2017
SUMMARY: For some patients, the body's own natural immune system is being used to fight their cancer. Meet a woman who has lived years past her doctors' prognosis, thanks to the emerging field of immunotherapy. Then Hari Sreenivasan discusses the promise and limits of the treatment with Matt Richtel of The New York Times and Jeff Bluestone, director of the UCSF Hormone Research Institute.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): The emerging field of immunotherapy, and its potential to help fight cancer in some patients.
Hari Sreenivasan has a conversation about its promise and limits in a minute.
We begin with the story of a cancer patient who was told at one point that she only had six months to live. She has now lived several years beyond that, thanks to her novel treatment. Those kind of treatments are the focus of our weekly segment, the Leading Edge.
MELINDA WELSH, Cancer Sufferer: My name is Melinda Welsh. I'm a writer, and was editor of The Sacramento News and Review for around 25 years.
And when I was diagnosed with cancer, it just came naturally, I guess, to write about it. It was shocking to hear. I felt stunned.
It is squamous cell carcinoma. And after we learned that the cancer had metastasized, we went to see some specialists. I asked each of them how much time I had left, and that's when they told me, you know, six to nine months, months to a year, a year-ish.
You know, I started writing again, and I felt I had something to say that might mean something to other people because of the lessons I was learning facing death.
“The enormity of the news didn't sink in fully, not at first, even after my doctor uttered the words, ‘I'm sorry, we did find cancer.' I have turned my attention to the question, how do I best spend the time that I have left? My answer is writing, family and friends, the pleasures of small things. I was told, don't skip dessert, so we don't. We have taken to getting up a few early mornings a week and driving out to see the sunrise over the flatlands of our mostly rural county.”
I can't believe this. It is going to be a great day.
“I will take solace in the idea that, once gone, I may come to occupy a small space in the hearts of the people who loved me most, and perhaps from there, I will be the source of a few simple reminders: Time is limited, life is miraculous, and we are beautiful.”
I always loved my life. I felt very lucky, my meeting up with Dave, my love of my life, best friend. So, having cancer, it just made me want my life, but more so.
After that first piece was published, we had a breakthrough. I started immunotherapy. And Dr. Algazi, who is our — my oncologist, surprises us by showing up in the infusion room. And he says, “I just talked to the radiologist. The neck tumor has vanished. And so have the other tumors.”
DR. ALAIN ALGAZI, Skin Cancer Specialist: My name is Alain Algazi. I'm an oncologist.
I specialize in head, neck cancer, and melanoma. I work at the University of California, San Francisco. Melinda presented with squamous cell cancer in a lymph node. It was metastatic, but she was diagnosed at a time when we had access to several new drugs. And those drugs turn the immune cells back on that are in the tumor, and allow them to fight more effectively against the cancer.
So, basically, they're taking your native immune response and enhancing it. So, we caused the tumors to regress and go away.