The first class of drugs that my brother was prescribed after his Stage 4 kidney cancer diagnosis came about through his entry into a clinical trial involving two immunotherapy drugs being tested against a standard chemotherapy drug. He got into the treatment arm as he had hoped. But the combo trial didn’t help control the cancerous spread much. My layman’s analysis after his death was that it messed up his pituitary gland and on top of the medications he was already taking, he had to add thyroid medication. Immunotherapy’s effects can be quite toxic, I concluded.
Almost six years after his untimely death at 44, I was intrigued by a pitch on a study on immunotherapy involving kidney cancer patients that was published in the Lancet journal. That caught my eye and so I reached out to one of the study’s co-authors – Dr. Sumanta Pal, co-director of City of Hope’s Kidney Cancer Program and professor of its Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. The message appears to be that even with all the positive benefits of immunotherapy and its ability to “cure” certain cancers, the potential for toxicity should nonetheless inform treatment.