Patients finding hope after melanoma drug shows promise

NEW YORK (NBC News) Former President Jimmy Carter was in good spirits during Sunday school this past weekend, cracking jokes and even telling the audience he’d been well enough to travel to Europe the previous week.

Carter was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in 2015, and his continued vitality is not typical of what doctors have historically seen with such patients, who generally only live about 11 months.

Carter had surgery and radiation, but also received a drug called Keytruda.

A new study finds 40-percent of patients with advanced melanoma were alive three years after treatment with Keytruda.

“We have an opportunity to give people with advanced melanoma the chance to live longer and maybe for some people to make their melanoma go away forever,” says Tim Turnham of the Melanoma Research Foundation. “This is huge in the melanoma field.”

Cancer cells have the ability to hide from the immune system, and Keytruda works by disrupting that cloaking effect, allowing the immune cells to find tumor cells and destroy them.

“There’s a certain group of patients whose tumors will shrink. There’s a certain percentage of patients who it will stop the tumors from getting any bigger, and it will stay that way for months to years,” explains Dr. Stephen Hodi of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Doctors are not calling Keytruda a cure, and it doesn’t work for everyone, but the hope is that more and more patients will be able to look at cancer more like a chronic disease than a killer.

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