It's known as the "abscopal effect." The patient's tumor encounters radiation and disappears, along with distant tumors ("metastases"). The radiation never touches the metastases, and the theory is that the immune system plays a crucial role. After the first tumor is disintegrated, its debris attracts the immune system, which attacks other tumors. This phenomenon was observed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and was confirmed by the center's Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy.
The patient was Valerie Esposito, 41. In September 2009, she was treated with the immune booster drug Yervoy. The hope was that the immune system would kill the cancer. In December 2010, however, a tumor on her lung was beginning to press against her spine and improvement was nowhere to be found. Radiation was then ordered.
Three months later, Ms. Esposito's tumors had begun to disappear. Her doctor theorizes that the drug Yervoy helped to create a "synergistic effect" with the radiation to attack the metastases.
Since then, he has tried the same process on another patient with similarly exciting results. He hopes now to stage a clinical trial so that others with malignant melanoma cancer may potentially benefit from the same treatment.