When Stephen Eisenmann was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 2016, he determined he would not go down without a fight.
“I determined this was a problem to solve,” Stephen says. “I sat back and said, ‘What’s the first step?’” He used every resource he could find, eventually contacting the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), which recommended that he meet with PCF-funded researcher and medical oncologist Dr. Dana Rathkopf.
Dr. Rathkopf put Stephen on the standard of care treatment and his PSA dropped to zero. Nevertheless, after about a year, new imaging showed enlarging lymph nodes; the prostate cancer was back, even though Stephen wasn’t making any PSA. “I said, ‘No big deal,’” he says. “We’ll just go to the next drug.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. “There are few trials for men in your situation who don’t make any PSA,” Dr. Rathkopf told Stephen, but clarified that the great hope might be a precision drug. She then tested Stephen’s cancer to determine whether there were any genetic markers that could be used to identify a precision medicine for his cancer.
Meanwhile, only days before, a PCF-funded study found that about 7% of prostate cancer patients have a mutation in a gene called CDK12, and that some of those patients had responded to pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug.
“For many years, cancer was thought of in an anatomic way: You had breast cancer or prostate cancer or lung cancer, etc.,” says PCF CEO Dr. Jonathan Simons. “Thanks in part to research funded by PCF, we know inherited genes play a big role in cancer development, particularly in advanced cancers that are the hardest to treat. Pembrolizumab is one of those new precision drugs that works across cancers regardless of anatomy or organ of origin.”
Then the best of the “worst news” came in: Stephen had a CDK12 gene mutation marker. After only three cycles of pembrolizumab, results of his imaging showed a complete response to the treatment. “The Prostate Cancer Foundation saved my life,” Stephen says. “Dr. Rathkopf saved my life. My wife and my family saved my life. I’m the beneficiary of all that, and I’m the luckiest person in the world.”
(Note: This article was provided by the Prostate Cancer Foundation. For more information, visit pcf.org/Northwest.)