If initial testing results hold up, a drug called Keytruda just may end up becoming a lifesaver for some patients suffering from stage IV melanoma. The drug, as the Florida Times-Union reports, was tested by Mayo Clinic doctors to treat melanoma patients and was recently given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's stamp of approval for widespread use. According to the newspaper, "the drug has produced a 'phenomenal response' in about 25 percent of patients who do not respond to other medications."
Mayo's Richard Joseph, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, tells the Times-Union that the drug helps a patient's immune system "fight off skin cancer tumors, which typically trick the immune system into thinking the patient isn't sick." In some of those patients, "we're seeing some 'Lazarus effects,'" Dr. Joseph tells the paper. "I saw a man in April where his doctor had recommended hospice. … We put him on it, and four treatments later, he had a complete remission, no longer thinking about hospice."
What's more, Dr. Joseph, who the paper says was "the lead investigator on one of the drug's trials," says Keytruda patients haven't experienced any "major side effects" from the drug's use, and instead have only reported "mild fatigue, rashes and itchiness."
While much remains to be seen (and many questions remain to be answered), Dr. Joseph says he believes Keytruda may hold "extreme promise" for stage IV melanoma patients and that he hopes it will be approved for use by all melanoma patients. "We're always hesitant of using the 'C Word:' cure," he says. "I tell my patients that not every day I wake up extremely happy that I'm an oncologist, but when I'm using drugs like this, it's a really fulfilling thing."
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