Medical Minute 10-3:

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

Karen Anderson takes time to reflect on her life. Doctors gave her just six months to live after a biopsy from a lump on her neck revealed she had cancer.

"My surgeon said, 'You know, you have stage 4 melanoma,' and it was just kind of like wow," said Karen Anderson.

The melanoma had spread to her lymph nodes, breasts, liver, and bones.

"After the initial shock of my diagnosis, it made me realize I want to do this different."

She's already lost her father, sister and step-dad to other forms of cancer, but Karen's determined to beat it. She enrolled in a clinical trial with the help of lead investigator, Doctor Walter Urba.

"Ipilimumab for Karen was a Godsend."

Ipilimumab or "ippy" works by stimulating the patient's own immune system to kill tumors. It's the first FDA approved drug for melanoma in more than a decade.

"It allows T-cells to grow, multiply, produce molecules that go on and kill melanoma cells wherever they live throughout the body," said Walter Urba, M.D., Ph.D., Director Cancer Research Earle A. Chiles Research Institute Providence Cancer Center.

With ippy, the median survival rate is improved by four months.

"It gave me three years, almost three years, that I would not have had if I hadn't been on it."

While ippy has given Karen more precious time with her daughter, the melanoma has come back.

"This is going to be a long road for me, and it's going to be like a marathon not a sprint."

A race she's grateful to still be in.

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