(BPT) - In May 2004, 22-year-old Sharon Belvin was two weeks away from her wedding. She went to the doctor thinking she had a particularly bad case of bronchitis and soon learned that she had stage IV melanoma - a diagnosis that typically comes with a two-year survival rate of only 15 percent when treated with conventional chemotherapy.
Melanoma is a fast-growing cancer and while it accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases, it is responsible for the great majority of skin cancer-related deaths.
Belvin's doctors put her on an aggressive course of treatments - but her cancer continued to spread and the treatments came with numerous side effects. When it seemed like she was out of options she learned about a new investigative treatment - immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a new class of treatment that is changing the way many doctors and researchers think about cancer. The goal of immunotherapy is to give the immune system the upper hand in fighting cancer and restore the immune system's ability to eliminate cancer cells. The potential result is a cancer treatment that is more powerful, has the potential to cure multiple types of cancer, offers long-term protection against disease, and has fewer side effects.
To raise awareness for this type of cancer treatment and how it's revolutionizing cancer treatment today, the Cancer Research Institute established June as 'Cancer Immunotherapy Month.' The Cancer Research Institute is the world's only nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to harnessing the immune system's power to conquer all cancers.
'Immunotherapy is changing the lives of people living with cancer,' says Dr. Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs, Cancer Research Institute. 'For more than 60 years we have been funding and driving innovative immunotherapy research and we are excited to see this research bring the word 'cure' into view for so many patients.'
While there are different types of immunotherapy that use different mechanisms, all immunotherapies work to restore or improve the immune system's ability to fight cancer. Immunotherapies are seeing remarkable results across a range of cancers and tumor types with one combination regimen of two different immunotherapies demonstrating nearly a 90 percent two-year survival rate in melanoma.
For Belvin, immunotherapy offered a cure. Nine years after her last immunotherapy treatment she is cancer free. 'Immunotherapy gave me a new lease on life,' says Belvin, who has since gone on to have two children. "I am living proof that immunotherapies for cancer work."
'Currently, there are approximately 25 cancer immunotherapies approved for use in the U.S. and more than 900 clinical trials investigating various immunotherapies across a range of cancer types, including the top 10 most common cancers,' says Dr. O'Donnell-Tormey. 'Researchers are working to find a potential lasting cure for cancer, and immunotherapies used alone and also in combination are changing the treatment paradigm.'
There are many other patients, like Belvin, who have been given their lives back thanks to cancer immunotherapy and the researchers and institutions behind them. To learn more about Belvin's story and how immunotherapies are changing the face of cancer treatment, visit www.cancerresearch.org. For more information on how to help fund CRI's work to bring these life-changing treatments to patients sooner, visit www.cancerresearch.org/CRI.