When life tries to beat us down, humanity for the most part will be resilient and fight back. This is also true when we get any disease including cancer. We will do whatever is in our power to beat it and survive. We will climb any tall mountain, leave no stone unturned and take any medication or herb that gives us the chance to live. The one thing we don’t do is pause for a moment and think about what we are doing. Lets consider cancer since it is the deadliest of all diseases. When developmental medications are explored, and we are at edge of death, we will fight for the right for access to that experimental drug. The side effects matter not if we can cheat death even for a short period of time.
We are willing to forgo proper vetting and drug development for that glimmer of hope. If you deny us, we fight harder. We press our government leaders to do more, to let us die trying and even sign consent from legal claims for that sliver of hope. Such is the case with immunotherapy treatment (#immunotherapy).
What Is Immunotherapy ?
Immunotherapy treatment is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. Our immune system is a complex system of natural defenses designed to protect our bodies from infections, inflammation and foreign objects. Using immunotherapy for cancer is the latest development in fighting cancer. However, cancer immunotherapy treatment is a new field of study that is not fully understood. Although the potential is great, the drawbacks are just as large.
The one thing you need to understand is that our immune system has a stop signal. Any time an infection has been terminated, our bodies return to its normal state of readiness. This built-in mechanism prevents our own immune system from attacking our cells. Even with cancer, our body recognizes that those cells are not to be harmed since they are not considered foreign.
The current immunotherapy treatments eliminate that stop signal. This is why fighting certain types of cancer has become so effective. The dark side is that by not telling our immune system to stop, we are essentially killing ourselves from the inside out. An uncontrolled immune system can attack healthy organs such as the liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, heart and the adrenal and pituitary glands.
I will present some case studies from patients who were affected by immunotherapy treatments. The first case is a 61-year-old male who showed up at an emergency room and had symptoms that seemed to appear he was dying. His symptoms were low blood pressure, high potassium levels and blood sugar 10 times the normal level. At first the diagnosis was a heart attack but some of the symptoms didn’t make sense. After doing additional tests and research, the symptoms were a result of acute-onset diabetes. This patient was treated with an immunotherapy treatment for cancer weeks earlier.
The cancer was gone but the immune system kept attacking itself. As a result, this patient is alive but living with a severe form of diabetes. A side effect of the treatment. Yes, his cancer is in remission and diabetes can be managed. But was it worth the cost?
This isn’t a one time incident or a rare occurrence. Some studies have shown that 30 percent of patients experienced rare or unexpected side effects. In addition, 25% describe the side effects as severe, life-threatening or requiring hospitalization. There have been patients in clinical trials that have died because their immune system went on overdrive and attacked itself.
A male patient who had advanced melanoma used a combination of two major immunotherapy treatment drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab. The doctor told him he might feel drowsy or nauseated, or he could get a rash. About a month later, a rash erupted with red welts from his knees to his waist and was given a steroid as treatment. The next day, he had a fever and nausea. An on-call doctor prescribed an anti nausea drug and prescribed a second later that same day when the first one seemed ineffective. By the next day, he was unable to move and was hospitalized.
Ultimately, this patient spent 24 days in the hospital due to his pancreas failing, inflamed bowels and kidneys that didn’t function properly. All of this occurred within a few days time and very little warning. He managed to survive but now also manages Type 1 diabetes. Keep in mind that the peak age of onset of Type 1 diabetes is 6 to 12. The type 1 diabetes was a result of the immune system destroying the cells in the pancreas that make the insulin needed to metabolize sugar into energy.
Immunotherapy Success Rate
One can’t argue the success that immunotherapy treatment brings to the lives of many. The issue is the history behind immunotherapy. The treatment options are too new and the front-line nurses, doctors and oncologists in emergency rooms are often caught off guard. While pharmaceutical companies rush to bring these drugs with unproven side effects to market due to profitability, our medical experts are playing catch up attempting to put out fires. The evidence that these drugs can be dangerous have been around for decades.
There were studies generated early on with lab mice that were treated with these drugs. The skin of some mice treated turned from black to white. They had lost their pigmentation as a result of the immune system attacking the cells that make melanin. Other lab mice studies showed healthy mice dying within hours of treatment. The kicker was a study using humans by TeGenero Immuno Therapeutics. They designed a drug to stimulate the immune system to fight leukemia. At a hospital in London, a Phase 1 trial took place, with six healthy patients getting the drug. Within hours, all suffered multi organ failure. The drug was shelved until more studies could be conducted.
The early success using sublingual immunotherapy and allergy immunotherapy helped people create a tolerance to allergens has made this area the hot topic of the day. With so much momentum for a cure including the FDA with “breakthrough therapy designation”, it’s no wonder big money is pushing the envelope. The money isn’t spent on genetic testing to see who can handle the side effects. It’s mostly spent on new combinations that help the immune system defend itself. The side effects such as diabetes have become an additional cost and risk that is deemed acceptable.
You also have to consider that chemotherapy has brutal side effects but can target a specific area or region of the body. These novel immunotherapy treatment options can control cancer without the need for continued treatment. They are indiscriminate in what they attack and are aggressive at doing so. By distributing them in your immune system, you can’t control where they go.
But at the end of the day, what would you rather deal with a daily insulin shot or continued chemotherapy to shrink a tumor?