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First Irish man to get 'revolutionary' cancer treatment sees tumours reduce

Finian Kenny was given 18 months to live before being treated with CAR T-Cell therapy

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Chaikom

AN IRISHMAN WHO was told he had only 18 months to live after a cancer diagnosis has detailed how an experimental new cancer therapy has prolonged his life.

Finian Kenny was diagnosed with double hit lymphoma, a cancer of the blood, in January 2015 but now, almost two years on, his tumours are reducing and his response to treatment is encouraging.

He told RTÉ’s Ray D’Arcy Show: “I was told I was going to die twice. They [doctors] didn’t expect me to be here now.”

Kenny, who lives in Australia, was enrolled on a clinical trial for a treatment known as CAR T-cell therapy, after methods to treat his cancer with chemotherapy and others failed.

“Originally they thought it was one of the non-aggressive forms of lymphoma,” he said.

“What happened was that during the second cycle, they discovered a more aggressive form of the disease… We tried about five different treatments and none worked.

You have to fail everything to get onto the trial.

While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been the standard in cancer treatment, a newly emerging form of treatment works differently.

Instead of removing the tumour or blasting it with radiation, immunotherapy equips your body’s own cells with the ability to fight tumours and make them shrink.

Advances in the field have been labelled “spectacular” by doctors, and numerous forms of cancer immunotherapy are currently under investigation.

Scientists have been looking at CAR T-cells, in particular, because it is believed that they can identify and destroy cancer cells in the body better than most.

According to the National Cancer Institute in the US, this form of therapy has the potential to treat forms of lymphoma that had been, up to this point, “virtually untreatable”.

In one trial for patients with another form of blood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the researchers observed remission rates not seen for many years, calling the results “a revolution”.

“It’s very similar to stem cell collection,” Kenny said. “They collect your lymphocytes, send them away, and they get reprogrammed and brought back.”

In Kenny’s case, he has responded very well to the treatment so far. “I’m not cancer free, but I’ve had a positive response.”

“It’s huge – it’s probably been the most positive experience of my life,” he added.

With such forms of cancer therapy not available to patients widely, yet, Kenny is one of the lucky ones who was able to enrol on a clinical trial to access the treatment.

While CAR T-cell therapy offers much promise, its potential  side effects for some patients remain a serious concern.

For Kenny, however, after one round of treatment he is now able to look ahead.

“My attitude to life has changed,” he said. “I have to go for follow-up check ups now for the next 15 years. If I had 15 years ahead of me, I’ll take that.”

Read: ‘Spectacular’ breakthrough as doctors trial drugs that could ‘replace chemo in five years’

Read: New cocktail of drugs could significantly improve outcomes for cancer patients

About the author:

Sean Murray

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