Colon cancer patient given months to live by NHS now ‘disease free’ after treatment in Japan

Colon cancer patient given months to live by NHS now 'disease free' after treatment in Japan

A father-of-two who was given just months to live after being diagnosed with terminal colon cancer six years ago has told how he managed to get a combination of cutting-edge treatments in Japan to survive and be ‘free from diseases”.

Now Matthew Dons wants to help other cancer patients and show that like them they are finding other treatment options that may not have been offered to them originally.

“I often see in Facebook groups that people have been told that it’s inoperable or that they don’t have the right ‘type’ of cancer for immunotherapy,” she said. i. “That is not really the truth. If the surgeon says that his patient is inoperable, what they really mean is that he cannot perform the operation in his hospital at that time.

“But maybe another surgeon at another hospital with a different technique might. It’s about educating people, helping them discover things that I wish I had known in the beginning.”

The self-employed business consultant was a healthy 36-year-old when doctors found a large tumor nearly blocking his bowel, which a CT scan showed had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. An oncologist in Norwich told her it was terminal after another scan showed it had also spread to the abdominal membrane, making treatment particularly difficult.

Mr Dons was told that the average survival time for a person with his condition was between seven and nine months, as the prognosis for people with this cancer is often poor.

“I actually felt sorry for the GP, who had to break the news to me in a five-minute appointment,” she said. “He was someone I hadn’t seen before so I had just met him. I came out of surgery with tears streaming down my face but I remember thinking ‘that poor guy’.

Dons with his wife, Chikako, and their children, Jessica and Edward (Photo: Matthew Dons)

But with her children aged just two and seven, she refused to accept her fate. NHS treatment would have involved urgent surgery followed by chemotherapy. But Dons, who splits his time between the UK and Japan, was concerned that a cancer drug called Avastin was not widely available in the UK. So he chose to seek other forms of treatment abroad that were not available to him if he had stayed in Norwich.

“I really wanted to live for my children, so I started studying as much as I could about possible treatments, without really understanding what I was studying, going to Facebook groups for different types of cancer, asking people about what treatments they had, the side effects they had. obtained and the results,” he said. “They finally connected me with an immunotherapist in Japan, who does a treatment called adoptive cell transfer.”

The technique, also known as cellular immunotherapy, is only available in a handful of places as many countries, including the UK, believe there is not yet enough evidence to offer it more widely.

What is adoptive cell transfer therapy?

Adoptive cell transfer therapy, or cellular immunotherapy, uses cells from our own immune system to eliminate cancer.

It takes advantage of this natural ability and can be deployed in different ways, including engineered T-cell receptor (TCR) therapy, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, and Natural Killer (NK) cell therapy.

Mr. Dons’ immunotherapist used NK cell therapy. Although cell transfer therapy is not widely used in the UK at present, the NHS offers CAR-T therapies for children and young people with a form of leukaemia.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which approves the treatments, has also recommended CAR-T therapy for adults with two types of lymphoma in England.

Scientists at University College London (UCL) have also established the CAR T-cell programme, the most comprehensive in Europe, which continues to actively recruit patients with T-cell malignancies, myeloma and neuroblastoma to build a stronger evidence base for these treatments.

Cellular immunotherapies are changing the outlook for cancer patients, according to Dr. Philip Greenberg, an internationally recognized expert in cancer immunotherapy at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

“Today, cell therapies are constantly evolving and improving and offer new options to cancer patients. Cell therapies, both alone and in combination with other treatments, are currently being evaluated in a variety of cancer types in clinical trials,” he says.

Dons said he hoped the NHS would eventually offer more people cell transfer therapies in the future, crediting Japan’s “world-leading health system” for saving his life.

“My Japanese doctor’s method concentrated on the NK cell, which can attack cancer cells that are hidden. This means you will get a longer response. And the treatment is autologous, meaning it is made from your own white blood cells, so you don’t run the risk of an allergic reaction where your kidneys pack up and you die in intensive care.”

He was able to benefit from a number of other treatments that he helped pay for with an online crowdfunding page set up by his sister.

They include immunotherapy, metronomic chemotherapy and radiation therapy. She also received hyperthermia therapy, a type of medical treatment in which body tissue is exposed to temperatures higher than body temperature, helping chemotherapy reach hard-to-reach areas. And doctors gave him metabolic therapy, which interrupts the production of energy in cancer cells, making them more sensitive to other cancer-fighting approaches.

“Two years ago I got to the point where I was classified as NED – no evidence of disease,” Dons said. “He strongly recommended I do another year of treatment to be safe, which I did. I still have my monthly blood tests and regular CT scans, so far every six months, which is amazing.”

Dons even managed to lose the colostomy bag he had for five years after the surgery. “Thirteen surgeons in Japan refused to do an inversion, saying it was too dangerous and the result wouldn’t be good, but luckily I found a surgeon who would do it,” he said.

“It was a success and I have been without the colostomy bag for 14 months. It was very important as having the bag made it difficult to have an active life. I couldn’t do much with my daughter Jessica, who is now 8, when she was younger.”

“I have hope for the future,” he added. “Now I’m focused on helping other patients. Things are looking bright.”

Dons has created a free online course to help other cancer patients seek alternative treatments abroad at www.makecancerhistory.jp/cancer-course/

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