Former President Jimmy Carter announced that his most recent scans showed no evidence of cancer, and he may owe his rapid response to science.
Carter was diagnosed in August with melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. His treatment regimen included standard radiation treatment but also incorporated a new medication called pembrolizumab. Pembrolizumab was fast-tracked through the FDA approval process in 2014 specifically for the treatment of melanoma.
What makes pembrolizumab different from other cancer treatments is that it belongs to a class of drugs that relies upon the body's own immune system to fight foreign cells. Because our immune systems have trouble recognizing cancer cells as foreign cells, these drugs (called immunotherapy) train the body to more effectively target and eradicate cancer cells.
While pembrolizumab may have accelerated Carter's recovery, in clinical trials it was far from miraculous. Reuters reports that only about 5 percent of people treated with the drug went into complete remissions. However, about 30 percent experienced significant tumor shrinkage, which is a promising and exciting finding for an entirely new approach to cancer treatment.
Best wishes to former President Carter and his family, and a big thank you to the researchers who made his recovery possible.