The incredible life-saving potential of immunotherapy is making waves in cancer treatment and giving patients renewed hope and strength to conquer the battle ahead.

New hope for cancer patients

A host of new therapies are extending and improving the lives of cancer patients, giving hope to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians with the disease.

“Thanks to developments in cancer care, today more than 60 percent of cancer patients will survive more than five years after their diagnosis,” says Dr. Michael Wortzman, Assistant Director of Research Programs, Canadian Cancer Society. “In the 1940s, that rate was only 25 percent, so we are making great progress.”

One of the therapies ushering in this new era of cancer treatment is immunotherapy. Engaging our immune systems to help fight disease is not a new idea, but recent improvements in our understanding of how the immune system works has turned concept into reality.

“At the Canadian Cancer Society, we make it our mission to fund world-class research on advancements like immunotherapy,” says Dr. Michael Wortzman. “This can lead to more effective cancer therapies for more Canadians, which ultimately gives the patient better odds of surviving longer.”

Becoming a champion

When Dr. Sylvain Gagnon, an orthopedic hand surgeon from Montreal, was diagnosed with cancer, immunotherapy was not available as an option, however, his understanding of both the disease and recent advancements in treatment helped cushion the blow.

“After my daughter noticed a tiny black spot on my chest, I went to get checked out,” says Dr. Gagnon. “I got back a diagnosis of melanoma, which used to be a death sentence, but I knew this was no longer the case, so I tried to remain as positive as possible.”

Thanks to immunotherapy, which he started in 2014, Dr. Gagnon continues to lead a healthy life, over eight years after his diagnosis.

“I was always active, but after my diagnosis, I began to train more seriously. I registered for the first of many Iron Man competitions a few hours after my last surgery in August 2011,” says Dr. Gagnon. “My athletic achievements gave me the confidence that I could beat cancer, and physical activity also lessens the side effects of immunotherapy. Last fall I biked across the Pyrenees, and I’ve biked the 250-plus kilometres from Montreal to Quebec City for the Ride to Conquer Cancer for the past four years.”

To date, Dr. Gagnon and his team have raised over $350,000 for cancer research. He’s happy to be able to contribute toward the development of new therapies, having experienced first-hand the benefits of recent improvements in immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy and other revolutionary treatments are giving cancer patients everywhere renewed strength and hope for the future — powerful weapons in the fight against cancer. Most importantly, these new treatments are helping Canadians with cancer live longer, healthier lives.