For years, heart disease has held its place as Public Enemy No. 1. It's the top killer in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association's annual report, cardiovascular disease kills about 800,000 people each year.
That sounds awful, but rates of heart disease-related deaths have dropped. A new report in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that between 2003 and 2015, deaths from heart disease declined by 28%.
Unfortunately, that now means we have another killer poised to take the No. 1 cause-of-death spot: cancer.
Although our rates of deaths from cancer dropped as well, they aren't falling as quickly as deaths from heart disease. That means in a few years, it could become the No. 1 killer in the U.S.
That's why I've been following developments in a type of cancer therapy that came onto the scene a few years ago.
Immunotherapy involves training your body's immune system to fight your own cancer. The treatment earned the title of Breakthrough of the Year in 2013 from Science magazine. It's even become a staple at medical conferences. That includes the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
At this year's ASCO meeting, we saw new data from immunotherapy trials. Some studies looked at two of the deadliest cancers: lung cancer and melanoma. After immunotherapy treatment, these patients now have much longer periods of remission. That was unheard of just a few years ago.
And there's a buzz about adding immunotherapy to surgery. One doctor reporting on bladder cancer said two cycles of immunotherapy before surgery led to a "complete response." That's incredible.
But so many questions remain... Will immunotherapy treat all cancers? Will those new cancer-fighting immune cells last and continue to keep you cancer-free in the future?
We still don't know for sure... But we do know that should you or a loved one receive a cancer diagnosis, asking about immunotherapy trials needs to be on your list of questions.
What to Do if You Have Cancer
There are three things I recommend everyone do upon first receiving a cancer diagnosis:
1. Confirm your diagnosis. Go out and get a second, or even third, opinion. Doctors make mistakes like everyone else. Don't put yourself through dangerous treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, without the certainty you have cancer.
2. Wait for tissue pathology. If you have a "solid tumor," wait for the pathology to determine your cancer type before starting treatment. However, this may not apply if you have a blood cancer like acute leukemia. Those often require urgent treatment.
3. Research, research, and research some more. Find out what your treatment options are, which hospitals lead the field in the cancer you have, and how to join potential trials.
4. Look for a clinical trial. Clinical trials are growing in number for immunotherapy. These trials test the effects of cancer treatments on patients. Many of the breakthroughs we've seen in the past few years come right from these cutting-edge trials.
If you're interested in finding clinical trials, visit ClinicalTrials.gov. The National Institutes of Health maintains this website as a registry and database of trials conducted around the world.
Only a handful of immunotherapies have received approval to treat cancer. So, for most patients, a clinical trial is the only way to try an immunotherapy.
The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) provides information on cancer immunotherapy clinical trials. You can search the Institute's database of clinical trials here. You'll need an account to access the database.
Setting one up is simple. Select a username and password. Provide your e-mail address and answer two security questions. There's no payment required. Then you can start searching for clinical trials. You can also call 1-855-216-0127 to speak with a Clinical Trial Navigator (available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time).
CRI has also gathered information on current treatments and the impact of immunotherapy on certain cancers. You can see that list here.
You can also find clinical trials through major cancer centers. We recommend starting with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center. All are great resources.
We've followed developments in immunotherapy for years. We even wrote a book about it called The Living Cure. The book covers how to find the best cancer centers for your type of cancer and gives an in-depth look at just how immunotherapy works. You can buy a copy here.
Immunotherapy provides new hope for cancer patients. If you know anyone battling cancer, we encourage you to share this essay with them.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: Do our gut bugs have a summer home?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 15, 2018