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Here’s what you need to know about the innovative treatment Dr. Richard Scolyer used against his own deadly cancer

Dr. Richard Scolyer made international headlines for achieving something doctors thought impossible: he survived a deadly cancer.

The doctor, who is himself a pathologist who has contributed to pioneering treatments for melanoma, tried a unique combination of immunotherapy drugs before surgery in a revolutionary new approach.

Scolyer was diagnosed with a cancer called glioblastoma, an incredibly aggressive brain tumor. Treatment options for glioblastoma haven’t changed much in recent decades: surgery to remove the tumor, usually followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The prognosis is grim: only 25% of those diagnosed live beyond the first year, and the five-year survival rate is only 5%.

Richard Scolyer, who is himself a pioneering pathologist, tried a new approach to curing his own cancer. Professor Richard Scolyer/Instagram

But Scolyer and his longtime research partner, Dr. Georgina Long, were determined. Doctors applied principles they had learned during years of melanoma research: a combination of immunotherapy drugs would be given first, before surgery to remove the tumor.

“I would consider it a sort of Hail Mary. And it worked – which is great for Rich. I mean, I saw him a few months ago and he looked really good,” Dr. Jeffrey S. Weber, deputy director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health and co-leader of the center’s melanoma research program.

Weber, who was not involved in Scolyer’s treatment but is familiar with his case, also knows the pathologist from their shared careers in cancer research and said the miraculous results were “worthy of attention.”

One aspect that made Scolyer’s treatment different was that he first received a combination of immunotherapy drugs to shrink the tumor and then underwent surgery to remove it. The strategy of administering drugs before surgery is known as neoadjuvant therapy.

Scolyer’s treatment involved receiving a combination of immunotherapy drugs before surgery, an approach not typically used for glioblastoma. X/@ProfRScoyerMIA

Scolyer joked to the BBC that it was an “obvious” option – but actually carried huge risks.

Experts wondered if the immunotherapy drugs would even reach his brain. Immunotherapy drugs can also be toxic when mixed, and experts have warned his brain could swell and he could die suddenly, the BBC reports. And these are just some of the considerations.

“If you give neoadjuvant therapy, you delay definitive surgery and radiation therapy by some time,” Weber said. “You may experience side effects that may prevent you from pursuing more definitive treatment.”

Scolyer worked on the treatment alongside his long-time research partner, Dr. Georgina Long, pictured above. Fairfax Media

Weber added that sometimes neoadjuvant treatment may not be an option due to other medications, like steroids, that a cancer patient may already be taking. In other words, Scolyer was a very special case.

Weber said that while this treatment is new for glioblastoma, it follows other ongoing research.

“I would say that all of this is consistent with many developments in immunotherapy, which suggests that neoadjuvant therapy before surgery may be helpful,” Weber explained.

In other cancers, such as lung cancer, Weber noted, similar neoadjuvant treatments have had success.

“It’s a growing field,” Weber added.

Glioblastoma, a brain cancer, is extremely aggressive. The 5-year survival rate is approximately 5%. Getty Images/Science Photo Balance

Scolyer and Long seem inclined to agree, but emphasize that they are still far from developing an approved and regulated treatment.

“We generated a whole bunch of data to then lay the foundations for the next step so we can help more people,” Long told the BBC. “We’re not there yet. What we really need to focus on is showing that this pre-operative combination immunotherapy type approach works in a large number of people.

Scolyer, who recently celebrated a tumor-free MRI, will likely continue to be monitored every three months, according to Weber, which is standard practice. But for now, the Australian doctor has mostly returned to a normal life, even exercising daily with 15 km of jogging.

“I am proud of the team I work with. I’m proud that they are willing to take the risk by going down this path,” Scolyer told the BBC.

News Source : nypost.com
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