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Keytruda treatment helping Melanoma patients in Tucson - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Keytruda treatment helping Melanoma patients in Tucson

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TUCSON -

There is promising news in the local fight against skin cancer.

Researchers said a new treatment called Keytruda is proving effective in helping patients with advanced melanoma live longer.

Dr. Hitendra Patel of the University of Arizona Cancer Center said Keytruda is proving to be more effective than other melanoma treatments because it has a different approach.

He said it is the first genetically engineered treatment to stimulate the immune system so it can fight off aggressive cancer cells.

“Keytruda and drugs like Keytruda, which act on the immune system, are certainly making a revolution in cancer treatment," said Patel. "These drugs have the potential to cure patients with advanced cancers."

Martha Bishop was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma in 2009. Two year later, it spread to her lungs and became Stage 4. She also developed brain tumors.

She said she tried several different treatments in an attempt to fight her disease. It slowed down, but the side effects were awful and she felt as though the results would not be long term.

Bishop said she felt hopeless until she entered a clinical Keytruda trial at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

“It feels like my disease went from being a death sentence to being more of a chronic disease,” said Bishop.

Bishop said the treatments, which she gets once a month, have helped her beat the odds.

“I was diagnosed when my kids were 3 and 5. My goal at that point was really to survive to see them through kindergarten," she said. "As of today, in fifth and sixth grade.”

Researchers said success rates with Keytruda are between 30 and 40 percent, with some clinical trial patients already living three years longer than predicted. That is seven times higher than success rates with previous melanoma treatments.

Patel said researchers are looking to develop similar drugs for other forms of cancer. Keytruda has also proven to be effective in treating brain and lung tumors that stem from spreading melanoma.

Former President Jimmy Carter credits the drug with shrinking his brain tumors.

The drug is not cheap. A one year Keytruda treatment costs $150,000, but is covered by most insurance.

To Bishop, the results are priceless.

“To be here is just miraculous," she said. "Then to be actually working and able to take care of my kids, it's just amazing.” 

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