Pioneering drugs that remedy once-intractable diseases; clever products that make everyday living easier for people with injury or illness; innovative technologies that provide relief at a touch of a button—by all measures, 2017 has been a year of astounding health care advancements.  Here are some of the ways medical trailblazers and researchers are creating fresh possibilities for you and your family.


Adrienne Skinner awoke from cancer surgery to stunning news.  “I came to, and he told me we couldn’t do it,” Skinner says of her surgeon, who had planned to remove a tumor from the end of her bile duct. “He said, ‘Cancer has invaded your liver.  It’s stage 4. It’s systemic.’”  She was diagnosed with ampullary cancer, a form so rare that no standard treatments existed. Until now.

After some “pretty nasty” chemotherapy, Skinner, 60, of Larchmont, New York, became part of a clinical trial for pembrolizumab, marketed by Merck as Keytruda.  The drug helps the body’s immune system fight the disease.  Skinner started infusion treatments in April 2014.  In July her surgeon took another biopsy. “He said, ‘If somebody hadn’t told me you had cancer, I never would have known,’” she notes.  The tumor was gone.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since approved further uses of Keytruda, such as for patients with a genetic mutation called mismatch repair deficiency.  The drug continues to be tested for use by patients without the mutation. It is approved for some head and neck, lung, bladder and metastatic melanoma cancers, as well as Hodgkin lymphoma.

During clinical trials, the medication was famously used to treat former President Jimmy Carter, who two years ago announced he had cancer in his brain and liver and said his fate was “in the hands of God, whom I worship.” Four months later, his cancer was gone.

Skinner has seen similar results.  She’s back at work and makes a point of swimming and playing tennis.  “I’m running around like a maniac. I’m out gardening right now,” she says.  “I know what a gift is, and I know the gift of life.”


Written by Mandy Fetterman for AARP Magazine

October/November 2017




What’s New:

Hair-Saving Device.  Two years ago the FDA approved scalp-cooling caps, which help breast cancer patients keep their hair during chemotherapy.  Now one such device, the DigniCap, has also been approved for patients with other solid-tumor cancers.  That could help nearly 800,000 Americans avoid chemo-related hair loss.  Why it’s key:  One in 12 women with breast cancer avoid potentially lifesaving treatment for fear of going bald.  Says patient Lauren Jones of the Paxman Scalp device:  “It’s liberating.”      (by Sari Harrar for AARP Magazine)


Computerized Treatment.  Three words cancer patients should know: Watson for Oncology.  IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer can take test results and comb through tens of millions of medical documents to make recommendations for care.  “One doctor doesn’t have the computing power to crunch all the world’s data,” says Jay Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer of Quest Diagnostics.  Last year, IBM and Quest expanded Watson for use by clinics.  Doctors send a tissue sample to Quest, which identifies genetic mutations and sends data to Watson to unearth lifesaving treatments.         (by Lexi Pandell for AARP Magazine)


Ovarian Cancer Sniff Test.  Dogs can smell certain cancers.  Researchers in Philadelphia are developing an electronic nose to do the same.  It could be available within five years.  This is important because the first stages of ovarian cancer are nearly invisible to ultrasounds or via exams.

(by Virginia Sole-Smith for AARP Magazine)