Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced Sunday that no cancer was detected in his latest brain scan.
Carter was receiving treatment for melanoma that spread from his liver to his brain. He said that a previous scan showed that the four spots where cancer was identified were responding to the treatment. “When I went this week, they didn’t find any cancer at all, so I have good news,” Carter said. According to Reuters, he said in a brief written statement that the scan “did not reveal any signs of the original cancer spots nor any new ones.”
Those with expertise on the subject say that such a clean scan for a melanoma patient would have been uncommon five years ago. Dr. Keith Flaherty, a melanoma specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies, said that immunotherapy drugs combined with radiation therapy have elevated the scope of achieving success in melanoma treatment. “There’s no question it’s very positive,” Flaherty said of Carter’s scan. “It really is an uncommon thing to have lesions of any size resolved so completely and so quickly.” Flaherty is not involved in Carter’s treatment.
While Carter only mentioned a brain scan, any other scans that his doctors might have performed have not been made clear.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said parts of body where the cancer has not spread are also scanned in cases of melanoma. “For today, the news cannot be better,” Lichtenfeld said. “Circumstances may change over time or he may be in a situation where it does not recur for many years or at all.”
Remission of cancer is seen in 30 percent of patients who are treated with drugs. Of these, complete remission is seen in only 5 percent of patients, according to Dr. Marc Ernstoff, director of the melanoma program at the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute, Ohio. Treatment with immunotherapy drugs on an average enhances a patient’s life by a year and a half.
According to WTHR, Carter’s body will be scanned to check whether a new cancer cell has developed. Dr. Douglas Johnson, a melanoma specialist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, said such a process is repeated every three months in the first year after a clean scan comes up. “The majority of patients can tolerate these drugs extremely well, even patients of an advanced age,” Johnson said. “It’s very different from traditional chemotherapy.”
During his treatment, Carter volunteered on a building project with Habitat for Humanity and was also involved with work at The Carter Center, the human rights organization that he founded after leaving the White House.