Sept. 27, 2021 --Sept. 29, 2021 -- Many patients with cancer, as well as doctors in fields other than oncology, are unaware of just how much progress has been made in recent years in the treatment of cancer, particularly with immunotherapy.

This is the main finding from two studies presented at the recent European Society for Medical Oncology annual meeting.

The survey of patients found that most don't understand how immunotherapy works, and the survey of doctors found that many working outside of the cancer field are using information on survival that is wildly out of date.

When a patient is first told they have cancer, counseling is usually done by a surgeon or general medical doctor and not an oncologist, said Conleth Murphy, MD, of Bon Secours Hospital Cork, Ireland, and co-author of the second study.

Module: video
 
Immunotherapy: Harnessing Your Body's Own DefensesFor some cancer patients, a cure without harsh treatments is possible. Can your cells be reprogrammed to attack harmful ones?166

TREVOR BIGGS: You feel sick.

You know, you're nauseous.

You lose your hair.

You feel like you got hit

by a truck.

And then you start to get

better, feel a little bit

better, feel a little better.

Then, boom, you get

another round of chemo.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Imagine

if treatments for cancers

were no longer

toxic and unbearable.

What if we could harness

our own immune system to win

the battle against cancer?

Well, that's not just something

to dream about

because, for some cancer

patients,

it's becoming a reality

on a "Path to a Breakthrough."



[MUSIC PLAYING]



Trevor Biggs was 26

and at the height of his life

when he was diagnosed with stage

4 lymphoma,

a severe and aggressive blood

cancer.



TREVOR BIGGS: I just did

simple math and thought,

let's just say I beat all

the statistical odds

and make it to 20 years.

You're still dying at a very,

very young age.

That was really hard for me

to wrap my head around.



ROBIN ROBERTS: But it seemed

that Trevor was defying

the odds.

After multiple rounds

of difficult and debilitating

chemotherapy, Trevor appeared

to be in remission.



TREVOR BIGGS: When I got better

the very first thing I said was,

I'm going to live my life

with my hair on fire.

I'm going to start doing things

I normally wouldn't do.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Soon Trevor was

feeling like he'd won not just

a second chance at life

but at love--



[KISSING]



TREVOR BIGGS: Love you.



ROBIN ROBERTS: --when he met

Sarah, the woman of his dreams

and the partner he was waiting

for.



TREVOR BIGGS: I mean,

we literally spent

every single day together.



ROBIN ROBERTS:

But as inseparable as they were,

too soon and too quickly

the joy and stability

in Trevor's life was shattered.

The cancer came back.



TREVOR BIGGS: I remember sitting

in our condo

and going back and forth

in my head-- you know,

crying because it's just like I

finally had met, you know,

the woman of my dreams.

Everything was really coming

together.

And yet here we are again

at a crossroads where [WHOOSH]

it could all go at any point.



SARAH BIGGS: To see Trevor so

vulnerable and just breaking

down and crying, and what am I

going to do?

And telling me that I should

leave because, you know,

we're not going to be

able to have a future.



TREVOR BIGGS: When I got

sick, marriage and kids--

those possibilities,

I felt like, kind

of exited the table.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Though Trevor was

convinced Sarah should move on,

she was determined more

than ever to stay by his side.



SARAH BIGGS: I had been looking

for Trevor my whole life.

I knew immediately that I would

not leave.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Trevor dreaded

returning to the toxic therapies

he had endured.

But then he got word

about a promising new cancer

treatment in clinical trials,

immunotherapy.



PHIL GREENBERG: Immunotherapy is

really, I think, a game changer

in cancer therapies right now.

The goal of immunotherapy

is to harness the immune system

to effectively recognize

and eliminate cancer cells.



ROBIN ROBERTS: For nearly four

decades, Dr. Phil Greenberg,

part of a team at the Fred

Hutchinson Cancer Research

Center in Seattle,

has been pursuing

an extraordinary new way

of attacking cancers.



PHIL GREENBERG: What we're

trying to do

is create cells that see

the tumor as if it was a virus

and just get rid of it.



ROBIN ROBERTS: The white blood

cells known as T cells,

which are

responsible for destroying

diseases in our bodies,

can be reprogrammed

with a new mission

to seek and destroy cancer

without harming healthy cells.



Tell us why this is such

a potential game changer.



AREFA CASSOOBHOY: It's really

incredible.

They actually take T cells out

of the patient's body.

They alter them.

They multiply them.

And then they'll bring it back

into the body

through an IV infusion.

Once these cells are

in the body, they continue

to replicate.

And they spread through the body

targeting cancer cells

and fighting them.



ROBIN ROBERTS: And it stays

in the body?

AREFA CASSOOBHOY: Yes.

It stays in the body.



It acts as a scout.

So as cancer cells resurface,

they're able to be attacked.



PHIL GREENBERG: Once you start

engineering a T cell,

you can change all kinds

of things that it can do.

You can make it much better.

And it should have none or very

limited side effects.



TREVOR BIGGS:

When the physicians are

presenting this to you,

they're saying, yeah,

so all the side effects that you

felt before, you're not going

to feel that.

And you're going like, really?

Like not even a little hair's

going to fall out?

No, nothing.

In your mind you're hearing

this.

And it's almost like too

good to be true.



ROBIN ROBERTS: But though it

seemed unbelievable,

Trevor's immunotherapy treatment

went exactly as he would have

hoped.



TREVOR BIGGS: It is amazing how

they get done.

You say, did I really just get

a treatment that could

potentially save my life

and I don't feel any side

effects?

Nothing?



ROBIN ROBERTS: Trevor says,

after the treatment,

he could feel his tumors melting

away.



TREVOR BIGGS: After I got

the transfusion,

you could see the tumor burden

starting to decrease.

And visually I could feel it.

There is no more there.

There's no more in legs,

my arms.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Trevor's

experience is part of what some

say could eventually

be the silver bullet we've been

looking for to cure cancer.

And at the Fred Hutchinson

Cancer Research Center, results

have been

astounding with reported

remission rates of up to 90%

in certain blood cancers.



PHIL GREENBERG: These responses

are really unprecedented.

They're unprecedented in part

because we're talking

about people who come

for therapies when they have

nothing left.

And this therapy, like many

of those, will be much more

effective when used earlier.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Which is why

biotech companies are racing

to make these blood cancer

treatments, currently

in clinical trials,

approved and hopefully

available to the public

as soon as 2017.



PHIL GREENBERG: This is the tip

of the iceberg.

These therapies will be better.

They will be more effective.

They will be easier to deliver.

So the future is really-- right

now it seems unlimited.



ROBIN ROBERTS: Dr. Greenberg

believes immunotherapy will be

the driving force in treating

a whole range of diseases

and maybe, one day,

making cancer a thing

of the past.

For now, multiple studies

are underway across the country.

And at the Hutch,

they are actively pursuing

treatments for other cancers

such as lung, pancreatic,

and ovarian.



As for Trevor, after finishing

his immunotherapy treatment,

he has been given the gift

of life in many unexpected ways.

Today, Trevor and Sarah have two

beautiful children

and, because of what they've

been through, an enormous amount

of gratitude.



TREVOR BIGGS: You think

about the fact that the T cell

therapy has given me the ability

to start that family.



Good job.



SARAH BIGGS: Mommy's turn?



We're just so blessed.



[KISSING]



Thank you.

I love you.



TREVOR BIGGS: It is as

if this disease was never here.

I mean, it really has allowed me

to live my life free of worry

and just go out there and live

cancer free.



[SARAH CHEERING]

Rock’nRobin/delivery/25/62/2562e496-561a-4681-a1b4-3b9475930d00/robin-roberts-immunotherapy_,4500k,1000k,2500k,750k,400k,.mp406/16/2016 00:00:00650350/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/robin_roberts_immunotherapy_v2_video/650x350_robin_roberts_immunotherapy_v2_video.jpg091e9c5e813fd6a9

Non-cancer doctors often grossly underestimate patients' chances of survival, Murphy's study found. This suggests that doctors who practice outside of cancer care may be working with the same information they learned in medical school, he said.

“These patients must be spared the traumatic effects of being handed a death sentence that no longer reflects the current reality,” Murphy said.

After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, “patients often immediately have pressing questions about what it means for their future,” he noted. A common question is, “How long do I have left?”

Non-oncologists should refrain from answering patients' questions with numbers, Murphy said.

Family doctors are likely to be influenced by the experience they have had with specific cancer patients in their practice, said Cyril Bonin, MD, a general practitioner in Usson-du-Poitou, France, who has 900 patients in his practice.

He sees about 10 patients with a new diagnosis of cancer each year.

In addition, about 50 of his patients are in active treatment for cancer or have finished treatment and are considered cancer survivors.

“It is not entirely realistic for us to expect practitioners who deal with hundreds of different diseases to keep up with every facet of a rapidly changing oncology landscape,” said Marco Donia, MD, an expert in immunotherapy from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, said.

That landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, particularly since immunotherapy was added to the arsenal. Immunotherapy is a way to fine tune your immune system to fight cancer.

For example, in the past, patients with metastatic melanoma would have an average survival of about 1 year. But now, some patients who have responded to immunotherapy are still alive 10 years later.

Findings From the Patient Survey

It is important that patients stay well-informed because immunotherapy is a “complex treatment that is too often mistaken for a miracle cure,” said Paris Kosmidis, MD, the co-author of the patient survey.

“The more patients know about it, the better the communication with their medical team and thus the better their outcomes are likely to be,” said Kosmidis, who is co-founder and chief medical officer of CareAcross, an online service that provides personalized education for cancer patients

The survey was of 5,589 patients with cancer who were recruited from CareAcross clients from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

The survey asked them about how immunotherapy works, what it costs, and its side effects.

Almost half responded “not sure / do not know,” but about a third correctly answered that immunotherapy “activates the immune system to kill cancer cells.”

Similarly, more than half thought that immunotherapy started working right away, while only 20% correctly answered that it takes several weeks to become effective.

“This is important because patients need to start their therapy with realistic expectations, for example to avoid disappointment when their symptoms take some time to disappear,” Kosmidis said.

A small group of 24 patients with lung cancer who had been treated with immunotherapy got many correct answers, but they overestimated the intensity of side effects, compared with other therapies.

“Well-informed patients who know what to expect can do 90% of the job of preventing side effects from becoming severe by having them treated early,” said Donia, of the University of Copenhagen.

Most cancer patients were also unaware of the cost of immunotherapy, which can exceed $100,000 a year, Kosmidis said.

Results of the Doctor Survey

The other survey presented at the meeting looked at how much doctors know about survival for 12 of the most common cancers.

Murphy and colleagues asked 301 non-cancer doctors and 46 cancer specialists to estimate the percentage of patients who could be expected to live for 5 years after diagnosis (a measure known as the 5-year survival rate).

Answers from the two groups were compared and were graded according to cancer survival statistics from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland.

Both groups of doctors had a hard time estimating the survival of common cancers.

Non-oncologists accurately predicted 5-year survival for just two of the cancer types, while the cancer specialists got it right for four cancer types.

However, the non-cancer doctors had a more pessimistic outlook on cancer survival generally and severely underestimated the chances of survival in specific cancers, particularly stage IV breast cancer. The survival for this cancer has “evolved considerably over time and now reaches 40% in Ireland,” Murphy pointed out.

“These results are in line with what we had expected because most physicians' knowledge of oncology dates back to whatever education they received during their years of training, so their perceptions of cancer prognosis are likely to lag behind the major survival gains achieved in the recent past,” Murphy said.

WebMD Health News

Sources

Conleth Murphy, MD, Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, Ireland.

Cyril Bonin, MD, general practitioner, Usson-du-Poitou, France.

Marco Donia, MD, PhD, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Paris Kosmidis, MD, co-founder and chief medical officer, CareAcross.

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.