Health advocates have done an extraordinary job of raising awareness of breast cancer. The public’s consciousness surrounding prostate and colon cancers is growing as well. But when it comes to kidney cancer, the term barely registers in people’s minds, despite being one of the 10 most common cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), kidney cancer will strike more than 62,000 Americans this year, more than leukemia and pancreatic cancer. Twice as many men as women will be diagnosed and seniors are at greater risk. The average age at diagnosis is 64.
It’s also very difficult to treat. It produces few symptoms and is usually isn’t diagnosed until it’s well advanced. And unlike many other cancers, kidney cancer isn’t very sensitive to radiation and is resistant to chemotherapy. The only viable treatments options thus far are either surgery or ablation to remove the tumor and then hope for the best.
But if one research scientist has his way, the next two years will change all that. His name is Dr. Robert Figlin and he serves as the director of hematology and oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he holds the Steven Spielberg Family Chair in Hematology-Oncology. As the principal investigator for the ADAPT trial, his team has been testing a vaccine that would boost the immune’s system ability to target and destroy kidney cancer cells.
This approach, known as immunotherapy or. immuno-oncology, has in recent years emerged as one of the most promising developments in the fight against cancer. By teaching the body’s immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells, it has the potential to be a potent weapon that can improve the long-term prospects of those who have kidney cancer.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Figlin while he was in Chicago attending the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting (ASCO), the world’s largest gathering of oncologists. During our videotaped conversation, Dr. Figlin outlined this new direction in kidney cancer research and offers near-term hope for those battling the disease.
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American Cancer Society. “Kidney Cancer (Adult) – Renal Cell Carcinoma.” Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003107-pdf.pdf. Accessed on May 16, 2016.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.