How a new treatment could cure stage 4 lung cancer

HOUSTON – The end of August 2017 was depressing for everyone in Houston, but for Nanci Rose, it was especially heartbreaking.

“Really had no will to live,” she said.

She was married for 35 years when her husband died of cancer and, she says, their home went under water in the same week. Then it got worse. She was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Her doctors told her it had spread and the outcome would not be good.

“I was taking care of him. That was a 24/7 job. So, I guess I really wasn't tuned into what was going on with me,” Rose admitted.

Even without much will to live, she said she couldn't suffer through the symptoms and went to Dr. Eric Bernicker at Houston Methodist. He put her on an immunotherapy drug in clinical trial and that changed everything.

“Our approach has been in people who have not been treated with any type of therapy. Either chemo or immunotherapy to try and utilize this approach up front,” Dr. Eric Bernicker, Houston Methodist thoracic oncologist, said.

That means, Rose, who had not had a lot of prior treatments, was a perfect candidate for the drug called Keytruda and, almost miraculously, the cancer disappeared from scans.

The only problem is doctors don't know how to replicate the results in everyone.

They have yet to figure out who can be cured by immunotherapy drugs alone, or if it's a combination of the drugs with other treatments.

“So there's a percent of people who do really well and some people do not respond at all,” Bernicker said.

While they're working to figure it out, results like Rose’s might make you believe she has angels on her side. Despite all her hardships with the loss of her husband, she said she feels the best she has in years.

“I was very surprised. I even told my doctor, ‘Here I thought you all were going to kill me,’ I did not expect the great results that I’ve had,” she said.

Rose takes Keytruda every three weeks. She will continue to get scans done, but can eventually cut those down to just once every six months, she said.