It was nice while it lasted, but it looks like the impacts of the immunotherapy trials are starting to wear off. Or maybe the cancer is insidiously adapting. One problem with clinical trials is that you can’t continue them even if they are working – they are limited tests followed by a period of data analysis, review, and regulatory process. It’s a valid implementation of the scientific method; we are very interested to see the results of the complete trials but we’ll just have to wait for the interpretations. We’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, we need to start on the next phase of treatment. Sherri’s CA 19-9 marker ramped up into the 600s, which indicates that the cancer is back on the move. This week she had a CT scan, and sure enough it shows increased growth of the tumors in her liver as well a few small lesions identified in her lungs. The pancreatic mass is also visible in this scan; it seems stable even though its children are growing up next door. Sherri has been noticing her symptoms amp up lately, so this is not really a surprise (though it is, of course, a disappointment).
Sherri is scheduled to start a new round of chemotherapy this week to try to knock this back. Her Fox Chase team has recommended a different cocktail than the last time, Gemcitabine + Abraxane, which is another approved first line treatment. Even though the FOLFIRINOX (her previous concoction) is a proven performer with Sherri, chemotherapies usually have a limited period of usefulness and tolerability, and the docs believe a combination that the cancer hasn’t seen before might be more effective at this point. Some of the side-effects are familiar, with the added likelihood that she will lose her hair within a couple of weeks of the initial treatment. So I guess we’ll be scarfing, and wigging out. On the optimistic side let’s go for the hat-trick of 3 successful treatments in a row!
In parallel, we are on the waiting list for a new trial at UPenn that focuses on a PD-1 inhibitor that has shown promise in other research. PD-1 is a protein that regulates the immune system by preventing the activation of T-cells. Similarly to other immunotherapy treatments, the idea is to activate the immune system so it will attack the cancer, in this case by persuading the PD-1 to let the T-cells go to work. This particular trial also attempts to attract the immune system by damaging individual tumors with radiation. There are dozens of other clinical trials in the works for pancreas cancer treatment, so we are always on the lookout for more alternatives!
Bryn Athyn College recently held another “Shooting for Sherri” fundraising event with a double-header home basketball game. This is yet another example of the creative ways that you all are making a difference in our lives, and in the lives and futures of countless others who are battling tricky diseases. We hope you will join us in realizing that the exciting progress being made in immunotherapy research is made possible by your concern and your action. Thank you.
[Recent update on the Support Page!]