Put Your Immune System on the Attack
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ROBIN ROBERTSWhat if the key to defeating cancer was already inside you? Immunotherapy is harnessing the power of our own bodies, offering, for many, new hope and new life. These promising treatments are at the cutting edge of cancer.
BOB FISSLEHad a life many would dream of.
BOB FISSLEHad so much going on. I was very involved with music. I was very involved with the winery. I was sort of locked into my reality of, oh, yeah, I'm happy. I'm going to just work through my 70s, and maybe I'll die in my job. And all of a sudden, it's like life really gave me a shaking. I found out that I had cancer.
ROBIN ROBERTSAdvanced kidney cancer. And the news got worse. His cancer had spread to his lungs and was inoperable.
BOB FISSLEThat was probably the darkest time for me. That's when I started saying goodbye to the world. I went out and started saying goodbye to the garden and walked out and said goodbye to the river. It was devastating. And when things get hard, the part of you that's deep down inside, the place where true courage comes from, is activated and opens up. And when you really need it, it's there.
ROBIN ROBERTSAnd Bob needed courage. His doctors told him his only option with current therapies was a treatment that would most likely leave him with debilitating side effects.
BOB FISSLEWhen a doctor says, "You have inoperable tumors, there's nothing we can do but put you on this toxic stuff that's going to make you sick, you're not going to have much quality of life, and you're going to have to figure out how to do life being sick all the time>" Oh, boy.
ROBIN ROBERTSBut then a new option appeared, a cutting-edge clinical trial at UCSF led by Dr. Lawrence Fong.
DR. LAWRENCE FONGWhat we're doing is we're actually enabling a patient's own immune system to go in and kill the cancer cells.
ROBIN ROBERTSDr. Fong and his team are collaborating with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, headed by Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone.
DR. JEFFREY BLUESTONE: The cancer and the immune system are these antagonists in this war. The cancer is constantly trying to change to escape from the immune system. Some people think we get cancers almost every day, but the immune system is destroying it. And the cancers we see are the rare ones that have escaped the immune system.
ROBIN ROBERTSThe cancer escapes by disguising itself with something called a "checkpoint," basically, a blockade that helps the cancer hide from the immune system.
DR. JEFFREY BLUESTONEIt puts shields on its cells to prevent the immune system from recognizing and destroying those cells. So what we're trying to do is to try to help the immune system get beyond those blockades. So we take off some of those breaks, which now allow the immune system to destroy the tumor before it has a chance to defend itself.
ROBIN ROBERTSThese treatments are called "checkpoint inhibitors," one of the most promising breakthroughs today in immunotherapy.
DR. JEFFREY BLUESTONEI think that immunotherapy will become a staple of cancer therapy; from now the last thing you try when everything else fails, to the first thing you try, because of the success rate. And that's going to happen in the next 2 or 3 years.
ROBIN ROBERTSThis is a very exciting time. It seems like we're talking about a lot of breakthroughs on a lot of fronts. Don't you think?
DR. MICHAEL SMITHOh, no doubt. Hopefully, we can stop talking about 5-year survivals when it comes to cancer. Let's just talk about living with cancer as a chronic disease and not actually how long are you going to survive with it.
ROBIN ROBERTSAnd for Bob, who is living with cancer, the results from his treatments are remarkable. He's had little to no side effects and has exceeded all expectations.
DR. LAWRENCE FONGThe spots in his lung have dramatically decreased in size. They've shrunken by more than half. He probably, with the conventional treatments, would have lived probably less than a year. But by receiving this immunotherapy, he's really continued to live life to its fullest. And I'm hoping for Bob that'll continue for years to come.
ROBIN ROBERTSAlmost 2 years after receiving his first immunotherapy treatments, Bob's world is once again focused on the things he loves, his life flowing forward in ways he never dreamed possible.
BOB FISSLEI'm grateful to be here right now. It feels like I'm part of something bigger than myself, and I feel like I belong.