Right now, poison ivy is George Ladd's biggest health concern and he is not complaining. Last year, Ladd was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He later learned that it had spread to his adrenal glands and spleen.
"I was really hoping it was all gone and 'Hey, I'm done with it. No more problems,'" he said.
Instead of surgery, doctors at Duke University tried the drug Interlukin-2. The drug is for advanced kidney cancer and melanoma -- two tough cancers to treat.
"They don't respond to traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation," said Dr. Jared Gollob, director of biologic therapy at Duke University.
In high doses, Gollob said Interlukin-2 stimulates cancer-fighting cells in the immune system.
"Interlukin-2 activates them and causes these cells to seek out the tumor and kill it," he said.
The drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for years. The drug was not widely covered by insurance agencies.
"It's been maybe a third to a fourth of what it really costs to give this treatment," Gollob said.
Duke and other cancer centers recently won a fight to get more coverage for the drug. Ladd said he cannot imagine where he would be without it.
"There's no trace of cancer left in my body whatsoever right now, so it's a total blessing to me," Ladd said.
Health officials said one in five patients respond to the drug. Duke is now testing Interlukin-2 with another drug to try and increase the number of people it helps.
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