Jimmy Carter’s Melanoma Appears to Respond to Immunotherapy

The former president, who announced in August 2015 he had metastatic melanoma, recently said he was cancer-free after treatment with pembrolizumab.

Jimmy Carter pembrolizumab metastatic melanoma
Former President Jimmy Carter
Photo by Mark Turner [CCO], via Wikimedia Commons

Just four months after former President Jimmy Carter announced he had metastatic melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain, the nonagenarian said he is cancer-free following radiation therapy and treatment with a cancer immunotherapy.

In August 2015, after surgery for a mass on his liver, tests revealed melanoma and further tests found that the cancer had spread to his brain. President Carter explained that he would undergo radiation therapy to treat the “spots” on his brain, followed by at least four rounds of cancer immunotherapy with the drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda).

In September 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted accelerated approval to pembrolizumab for the treatment of certain patients whose metastatic melanoma had not responded to other treatments. The drug is a monoclonal antibody that binds to the PD-1 receptor and releases brakes on the immune system, allowing it to attack the cancer. More recently the drug was approved for use in certain patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

“My most recent MRI brain scan did not reveal any signs of the original cancer spots nor any new ones,” the former president said in a statement released by the Carter Center. “I will continue to receive regular three-week immunotherapy treatments of pembrolizumab.”

Advances in cancer science, particularly in cancer immunotherapy, have benefited many patients like President Carter with advanced melanoma, which often has a poor prognosis.

In March 2012, Richard Murphy, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 mucosal melanoma, enrolled in a clinical trial for pembrolizumab. After five infusions of the investigational drug, Richard’s doctors thought his kidneys were failing, so he was hospitalized and taken off the drug.

An ultrasound failed to reveal what was going on with Richard’s kidneys but did reveal that his tumors were shrinking. A few months later, all that the scans showed were shadows where the tumors had been.

“After I was diagnosed, I just hoped I’d see my youngest daughter go to kindergarten,” Richard said. “Now maybe I can see her get married.”