High Dose Interleukin or Clinical Trial?
We had done quite a bit of research already and were convinced that I would be a good candidate for a procedure known as high dose interleukin-2 (HDIL-2) before calling an old friend, Amy Abernethy, who is now an oncologist at Duke’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but from the descriptions I’ve read it seems to be something akin to ripping your spinal column out through your throat and flushing out your nervous system with Drain-O. When I first mentioned it to my current oncologist here in town – I say “I” but I really mean Dena, as she is the one with the Google Medical Degree and is unafraid to challenge any doctor – he looked at us with a little leerinessand said, “That is very hard on the body and has a low rate of success.” Still, when this kind of treatment has a success rate, it can be a hell of a success rate — all in, potentially clearing out all of the cancer. And being young and healthy (aside from the whole cancer thing), I’m as good a candidate to undergo the procedure as anybody.
Amy happens to be very familiar with the treatment, as Duke is one of a handful of cancer centers with the experience and proper facilities to administer it on a regular basis. She too noted that “success” is a relative term. While this treatment has been known to result in full success, in the sense of shrinking the tumors completely, the percentages of such levels of success are indeed small – somewhere around 8 percent. However, she noted that it has a much higher success rate, in the realm of 25-35 percent, in terms of stunning the tumors and blocking their continued growth and even shrinking them to varying degrees, if not completely. She also emphasized that we wanted to go to a facility that had plenty of experience in administering this treatment, as it is complicated, and you don’t want some nurse frantically thumbing through the manual if something goes wrong. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s more or less what she said.)
However, we are looking at another option. There is a chance I could get into a clinical trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) here in Washington (Bethesda), which is an excellent facility. And because it’s part of a clinical trial, the costs could be mitigated. The tricky part is that such trials study very specific medical developments, and I may not qualify for any number of reasons.
For example, “Phase I” trials are early development studies of new drugs. It’s the kind of thing where some scientists decide Hey, this stuff has been working on goats, think we can find some crazy bastard who’ll let us try it on him? Phase II, as I understand it, is where they test toxicity levels and how much you can withstand and still have a positive effect. It’s the Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another trial. Or they might try mixing up a couple of different drugs that have proven successful separately to see if they do even better together, kind of like digging through your fridge and throwing a bunch of crap into a pot and calling it soup. Sometimes you hit culinary gold, right? Once you reach Phase III the drug has proven efficacy and now is tested against other proven drugs to compare levels of efficacy. It’s also part of a massive stat-gathering operation that allows the pharmaceutical companies to market the drugs publicly, noting response rates of the drug. They’re like dealers on the streetcorner telling you that they’ve got the really good stuff.