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Health Spotlight: New drug therapies outsmart cancer, doctor says

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Doctors treating certain types of leukemia are moving away from chemotherapy.

A new treatment is proving to be more effective.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a slow-growing cancer that attacks certain proteins on white blood cells. Doctors now have discovered an alternative to traditional chemotherapy for battling this disease.

Barry Taylor is a retired magician who has chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Dr. Ralph Boccia, a clinical associate professor of medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., said, “Your spleen and liver can enlarge. Your bone marrow can become packed up with the leukemic cells.”

Instead of staying on traditional chemo, Taylor’s doctors are using new therapies to treat his cancer.

Boccia said, “We went from fairly fixed duration therapies, to now, take it until your disease gets worse again. So, we call that ‘treat to progression,’ progression to cancer. Now, we have kind of come full circle, where we’re realizing we could put some of these combinations together, and can give them limited therapy, therapy that might last only a year or two.”

The drugs are critical for outsmarting the cancer, Boccia says. “He’s on a targeted drug called acalabrutinib, a monoclonal antibody called obinutuzumab, and another targeted drug called venclexta.”

Taylor said, “I was in the ICU (intensive care unit) and all, and things were getting bad, but when I got on this venclexta, boy, it was a lifesaver.”

Barry is in remission but still takes the drug therapies to keep his cancer at bay.

Side effects are possible from any drugs, so Boccia recommends discussing treatment options with a hematologist.

With these innovative therapies, doctors feel that they may be getting close to a cure.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.