New Immunotherapy Helps Immune System Fight Cancer Cells

Philip Markway has been battling multiple cancer outbreaks for most of his life. He was born with a rare genetic condition called xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) that causes recurring skin malignancies. The youngest of seven children, five of whom developed the genetic condition, Markway was not surprised when he discovered his first melanoma at age 22.

For more than 20 years, Markway underwent surgical and medical therapies to treat the small melanoma tumors that developed randomly on his face, his scalp and under his lip.

Alissa Marr, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist, with melanoma survivor Philip Markway.

Eventually, however, the tumors became more advanced. When he developed three spots on his lungs, he knew he was running out of options. His twin brother had metastatic malignant melanoma in his lungs and brain and died at the age of 32. His older sister had many melanomas and died at age 62 after developing ovarian cancer. The future did not look promising.

That’s when Alissa Marr, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist, offered a new option. She told Markway about an innovative immunotherapy drug that helps the immune system detect and fight cancer cells and offers the possibility of more long-term, durable responses.

Markway has been receiving infusion treatments with this new drug every three weeks for more than a year with minimal side effects and no recurrences.

“I actually feel better than when I wasn’t receiving treatment,” he says. “I work daily, some long days. I travel, eat, play, ride my bike and oversee my business.” In fact, through all of this, Markway says he hasn’t needed to miss a day of work, except for every third Monday when he receives his infusion.

In addition to this new immunotherapy drug, Dr. Marr says there are a handful of other treatment options that now offer the possibility of long-term, durable remissions for melanoma patients.

“Melanoma, when caught early and appropriately managed, is highly curable,” says Dr. Marr. “However, unlike other skin cancers, melanoma has a chance of metastasizing, which is then considered stage IV. Once it has metastasized, the goals of treatment typically change to more of a palliative approach rather than curative. However, that is no longer the case due to the tremendous strides that have been made in the treatment of stage IV melanoma just over the past five years or so.”

Markway says the decision to have his infusion treatments at Nebraska Medicine — Bellevue has been a good one. “It has been convenient, easy to access and the staff has been very friendly and knowledgeable,” he says. “I like the smaller feel of this hospital and the fact that it was closer to home.”

“Given the rarity of Philip’s condition, being treated at an academic cancer network has been advantageous,” says Dr. Marr. “He has been managed by providers that specialize in this area of oncology. His surgeries have been complex and have required a well-trained hand. Bellevue has allowed him to get labs, attend his clinic visit and get his infusion all in one convenient and efficient place.”

With more than a year under his belt with the new immunotherapy drug, Markway is hopeful for the future. “I have been amazed at the care and knowledge of my doctors and staff at Nebraska Medicine. I am definitely at the right place.”

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