Former President Jimmy Carter, who has been undergoing treatment for cancer that was removed from his liver but had spread to his brain, said Sunday that he was free of the disease.
“My most recent MRI brain scan did not reveal any signs of the original cancer spots nor any new ones,” he said in a statement issued by the Carter Center.
Carter, 91, has been undergoing treatment for metastatic melanoma since August. He said he will continue receiving regular immunotherapy treatments using the drug pembrolizumab.
Carter, who served as the 39th president from 1977 to 1981, announced his illness in August. Doctors discovered he had cancer early in the summer, and he underwent elective surgery Aug. 3 to remove a small mass from his liver. The procedure revealed that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body, and doctors found four small lesions on his brain.
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The disease is often accompanied by a poor prognosis, but experts said Carter appeared to have benefited from early detection. He began a treatment regimen in August that involved a highly targeted form of radiation therapy and pembrolizumab, which has been shown to help some melanoma patients live months or even years longer than expected.
In November, Carter said that he was responding well to the treatment and that the cancer was showing no signs of further growth.
Doctors treated Carter’s lesions with stereotactic radiation therapy, delivering a strong beam of radiation directly to the four tiny spots instead of applying radiation to the entire brain, which might be less effective and could cause significant cognitive impairment.
While the therapy eliminated the cancer that doctors were able to detect, pembrolizumab is supposed to help his immune system fight microscopic lesions that might develop elsewhere in his body and escape detection. A patient in Carter’s situation would need to go three to five years without evidence of lesions before doctors can say with confidence that he has been cured, according to Dr. Dale Shepard, an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“His greatest risk was that he was going to get disease developed in new locations, but seemingly that hasn’t happened,” Shepard said.