William Coley was an American surgeon who dedicated himself to finding a cure for cancer after losing one of his patients to the disease in 1890. He scoured hospital records and found the case of a man named Fred Stein. Mr. Stein’s sarcoma had disappeared seven years earlier after a bacterial skin infection. Coley tracked Stein down. He was still alive and cancer-free (McCarthy 2006; Murala 2010).
Coley was struck by the idea that an immune response to a bacterial infection could cure cancer. He went on to test his hypothesis by inoculating almost 1000 cancer patients with dead bacteria, with some success (McCarthy 2006).
This innovative physician is thought to have originated cancer immunotherapy, a field still blossoming today (Karbach 2012; McCarthy 2006). One hundred and twenty-five years after Coley began his research, former President Jimmy Carter began treatment for metastatic melanoma with a promising new drug called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) (Mulcahy 2015). Metastatic melanoma like Carter’s has a one-year survival rate of about 22% (Song, Zhao 2015), but after just a few months, he had no detectable tumors.
President Carter’s experience with pembrolizumab is not unique. Recent clinical trials in urinary tract and lung cancers were stopped early because the drug was working so well (Bellmunt 2017; Reck 2016). Many trials are assessing the potential of pembrolizumab in treating numerous other cancers (MCT 2017).
Pembrolizumab is just a small part of the rapidly expanding category of cancer treatments called immunotherapy. Scientists have spent years studying how the immune system fights infection and disease, and now they have found ways to build on some of those tools to fight cancer.
Cancerous tumors can suppress the immune system and evade immune cells (Rabinovich 2007). As we age, we naturally undergo a process called immune senescence, which makes us more susceptible to infection and some chronic diseases (Agarwal 2010). Successful immunotherapeutic approaches overcome some of these barriers by boosting the immune system’s natural defenses and providing it with new ways to attack cancer (ACS 2016b). Integrative interventions such as zinc, selenium, vitamin E, probiotics, enzymatically modified rice bran, and beta glucans from Reishi mushrooms and other sources can also enhance immune system function and may complement immunotherapies. The over-the-counter drug cimetidine (Tagamet) can also modulate immune function and facilitate a more robust immune response against some cancers (Pantziarka 2014).
For the first time, patients like Jimmy Carter with difficult-to-treat cancers have some hope that their disease can be effectively treated. Indeed, the American Society of Clinical Oncology named immunotherapy the “clinical cancer advance of the year” for the second year running in 2017 (ASCO 2017).
Immunotherapy research has already brought hope to many patients, and with hard work, financial investment, and solid science, many more immunotherapeutic breakthroughs are expected in the years to come.
Note: this protocol covers immunotherapy specifically, which will likely be only one facet of a cancer treatment plan. Readers should consult other relevant Life Extension protocols as well, such as Cancer Treatment: The Critical Factors, Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Cancer Surgery, and Complementary Alternative Cancer Therapies.