It all started with a car accident that, ironically enough, might have saved his life. Two and a half years later, Thomas Bland is completely recovered and cancer-free – a living testimony of how effective biologic therapy can be.
About three years ago, on his way to work, another driver slammed into his car. Thomas had to be airlifted to VCU Medical Center, where he went through extensive testing. As he remembers it: “they did a CT scan to assess the damage, and that’s when they found the tumor”.
After recovering from the injuries sustained in the accident, doctors removed his left kidney and adrenal gland. The biopsy revealed that he was, in fact, suffering from sarcomatoid kidney cancer, a particularly aggressive form of malignancy. Because of how fast the malignancy spreads through the body, this diagnosis usually means a life expectancy of less than 12 months.
Three months after the surgery, the news was bad – the cancer had returned and was spreading to his right lung and right hip bone. Four months of grueling standard cancer treatment followed, with no effect. The disease was actually advancing towards his right adrenal gland, surrounding bones and causing nodules on his scalp. Time was running out for Thomas.
This is when his doctor, Asit Paul, M.D., Ph.D., convinced him to try an experimental new drug called Nivolumab (also known as Opdivo). The treatment was so recent that at the time there was “no data supporting the use of nivolumab in patients like Mr. Bland”.
Part of a new wave of immunotherapy medication, Nivolumab is a checkpoint inhibitor that blocks certain proteins used by the cancer cells to hide from antibodies and evade destruction. Every two weeks, Thomas was administered Opdivo intravenously. Within a month, the tumors on the scalp started shrinking and after a few months, scans showed no spots of cancer anywhere in his body.
“I didn’t even have any side effects, at least nothing like I experienced with chemo”, admitted Mr. Bland. He went on to say that “I really want to thank Dr. Paul, nurse practitioner Gwen Parker, my other nurses, and the rest of the staff at Massey Cancer Center. They saved my life”.