More cancer patients, like Sen. Hirono, are turning to immunotherapy

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Mazie Hirono is getting a cutting-edge treatment in her fight against cancer.

It's called immunotherapy, and it enhances the body's fight against cancer.

Dr. Shane Morita is the Medical Director of Surgical Oncology at the Queen's Medical Center, where many patients on immunotherapy come in every two to three weeks.

He hasn't treated Hirono, but says immunotherapy can be a game-changer.

He says traditionally the 5-year survivability rate for stage four kidney cancer is less than 10 percent, but newer treatments like immunotherapy are improving the statistics.

"Our immune system is on constant surveillance fighting infections and even fighting cancer cells. Immunotherapy excites it. It enhances it in order to fight the cancer," Morita said.

Hirono will get immunotherapy  for the next three months to treat spots on her thyroid.

It's the senator's latest procedure since being diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer in May.

Surgeons have removed one of her kidneys and have also treated a rib lesion.

"I think with all these new novel therapies, there's definitely much more promise," Morita said. "It's used for different types of cancer including melanoma and lung cancer. It's really been a paradigm shift in how we treat cancer that has spread to different organs."

Side effects of the drugs used in immunotherapy can be fatigue and rashes, but Morita says it's not as harsh as chemotherapy.

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