A cancer patient who was on the brink of death and riddled with 26 tumours has been “effectively cured” by radical therapy which triggers the body to heal itself.
The extraordinary case emerged as trials revealed a host of “unprecedented” advances using immunotherapy treatments at the world’s biggest cancer conference.
In one study, those treated with the combined therapies had a 61% higher chance of not dying or the disease progressing, compared to those given standard treatment.
Five years ago Mike Chettle was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which spread to his liver, bones and abdomen, despite undergoing complex surgery and drug treatment.
By 2014, the cancer had spread so far that he was in constant pain, reported The Telegraph.
The cancer had spread to his bones and liver, and 26 tumours were detected in his abdomen alone.
“It was spreading fast,” he said. “I was limping. I couldn’t turn my neck. I was in a lot of pain.”
After repeated rounds of gruelling chemotherapy, Chettle, from Virginia, exhausted all treatment options and was considering end of life care, when his oncologist suggested he take part in a radical trial at John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre in Baltimore, Maryland using the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab.
The trial, led by Dr Luis Diaz, from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, studies a genetic abnormality called mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency to see if those with it are more likely to respond to the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab.
Scientists believe thousands more patients with terminal cancer could go into remission if immunotherapy drugs are used in new combinations.
The drugs enable the body’s own immune system to hunt out and attack cancer cells. But only around a fifth of patients currently get a good response to the therapies, and experts are urgently looking for ways to drive up the number.
Within just eight weeks his symptoms subsided, doctors at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference revealed.
And within a matter of months, the husband and father was well enough to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
Two years on, he has seen a complete response to the treatment – almost all of his tumours have now disappeared.
His doctors hope that soon they will be able to stop all treatment, and just keep him under surveillance, with regular scans.
“I feel like I’ve been blessed to have good doctors who led me to where I am, to be in that trial,” Chettle said.
Clinical trials are now starting to combine immunotherapy drugs instead of using them alone to increase their power.