Renal cell carcinoma is a particularly brutal cancer. Though rare, it is the most common kidney cancer in adults. While it starts there, it can also spread to the lungs and other organs. In many cases, by the time symptoms show and diagnosis is achieved, the disease has progressed beyond the point of effective available treatment.
For over 30 years, my best friend’s father was a baseball and football coach, and a PE teacher. He was in phenomenal shape. He did not smoke or drink. Aside from his great health habits, he also helped so many students to strive to be productive, contributing citizens to society after high school. Teachers like him have an immense impact in my small town, a socioeconomically downtrodden place where kids drop out of school a little too often. He made a difference in these kids’ lives.
Then one day in May, on his way to work, his back started hurting. He figured it was because he was hitting a lot of baseballs to the team the day before. A few weeks prior to this, he had told me he had a cold/flu he just couldn’t shake. He stops at the doctor’s office on the way to school that morning due to the back pain. The doctor determined he was having a heart attack, so they airlifted him to the hospital.
It ended up being a bilateral blockage from a blood clot. Doctors didn’t know why his blood had clotted so they put him on blood thinners and told him to take it easy for a few weeks. He wasn’t feeling better and he was growing increasingly fatigued.
Over a month later, they diagnosed him with stage IV renal cell carcinoma. He underwent open chest surgery to remove the tumor from the kidneys and lungs, then chemo and immunotherapy. He died nine months from when he had his heart attack.
During those nine months, I watched a man in pain, lose his identity and all of the hobbies he loved most. His prognosis was poor from the beginning.
This tragic disease has a little hope in the pipeline for people with a similar prognosis, however. In a phase III clinical trial presented at Presidential Symposium of the European Society for Medical Oncology’s 2017 Congress in Spain, the survival rates were higher for a combination of immunotherapy drugs in the instance of metastatic renal cell carcinoma.
The combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab, which is FDA approved for melanoma, was being tested against the current standard treatment sunitinib. The researchers believe this will become the new standard of care for renal cell carcinmona. To check out the press release from the amazing researchers at the Kidney Cancer Program of UT Southwestern, click here.