While chemotherapy remains the most common and widely-used form of cancer treatment, it is known to have many negative side effects for patients and limited efficacy against advanced, recurring cancers. Recent developments in oncology have centered around the area of immunology, and immunotherapy treatments are seen as a major advance in mainstream cancer treatment.
Immunotherapy works by enhancing the immune system of the patient to attack the particular pattern of abnormal cells occurring in the body. Tumors are mapped via DNA analysis and specific antibodies (“immune checkpoint inhibitors”) are developed and administered which block the growth of protein within cancer cells and effectively stop the cancer growth. Examples of immune checkpoint inhibitors currently in use include Ipilimumab and Pembrolizumab (commonly known as “Pembro” and heavily publicized during the campaigns of Vicky Phelan and women affected by failures in Cervical Check).
Immunotherapy is a great advance on chemotherapy in that it targets the cancer without negative side effects and it doesn’t lose its efficacy over time. However, it is new to mainstream oncology and is a complex treatment which involves high levels of testing, mapping and trialing in order to match the treatment to the disease. As such it remains an expensive option for cancer patients and their families. Individual initial trials can cost up to €5,000 which, as an elective option, often isn’t covered by health insurance providers. If a suitable treatment is found each subsequent infusion can also run to thousands of euro. This creates a huge dilemma for patients and their loved-ones, as life-saving treatments can be simply beyond their financial reach.
Gavin is currently awaiting results of trials for a number of immunotherapy treatment options. Access to these treatments has been our only focus for the past number of months as it offers us huge hope for our future. Any help you could give us would make a difference as we need him around for a long time to come.