Every year, there are around 74,000 new bladder cancer cases in the United States alone. In men, it’s the fourth most common cancer and the eighth most common cause of cancer deaths. Survival rates are relatively good, with 65% of patients still alive 15 years after diagnosis. Still, cancer of any kind is a scary thing, and survival rates are always dependent on how early the illness is discovered and treated. Bladder cancer can be beaten if detected early, but many times this isn’t the case. Some patients don’t learn they have it until it has spread to other areas of the body and it’s causing significant problems within the urinary system.

It’s been a long time since any new treatments have been developed for the treatment of bladder cancer. Now the FDA has approved a drug called Tecentriq that could mean more time and even remission for those with advanced-stage bladder cancer.

Encouraging Potential

No drug is ever a surefire cure for everyone, but Tecentriq has shown promising results in clinical trials. When the usual treatments of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery aren’t enough, this new drug can be given to patients with advanced cancer. It halted tumor growth for 24% of patients and even shrank them by 30%. Of the original 119 patients participating in the 2014 study, 21 of them achieved and stayed in remission while continuing to take the drug.

Why Does It Work So Well?

Short answer – it enables your body to fight the cancer for you. Previous immunotherapy drugs worked by firing up the immune system to fight off the cancer. Others train immune cells to recognize cancer-specific cells and destroy them. Both approaches can be draining on patients and have unpleasant side effects, as do all drugs.

Tecentriq is different in that it targets the antibodies that are supposed to keep us healthy and fight off those tumorous cells. Rather than boost the immune system or attack the bad cells, these “checkpoint inhibitors,” as they’re called, simply put a stop to the cancer’s ability to invade the immune system. When the cancer can’t genetically interact with healthy cells, it begins to die out on its own. It works much like a drug called Keytruda, which is believed to have put a stop to former president Jimmy Carter’s advanced melanoma.

That said, Tecentriq is still very new and not everything is known about it yet. Most patients in the study felt no side effects, though some did notice minor fatigue, diarrhea, and itchy skin. But researchers are proceeding with caution, as checkpoint inhibitors have been known to go after healthy organs.

While it remains to be seen how Tecentriq stacks up to previous treatments, it’s certainly the first major step forward towards new hope for bladder cancer patients in a long time.

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