FW de Klerk Diagnosed with Rare Cancer
- Frederik Willem de Klerk (“FW de Klerk”), 85, is a former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and he has been diagnosed with a rare type of lung cancer, mesothelioma.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma will be diagnosed in 2021.
- Treatments for this type of cancer include surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy; De Klerk will undergo immunotherapy.
The former South African president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with Nelson Mandela for their transitioning of South African’s government to democracy. de Klerk recently announced he’s been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer. De Klerk is 85 years-old. He also lost his son to cancer of the jaw last year.Read More
“Mr. De Klerk will start a course of immunotherapy next week. There is no immediate threat, and we are confident that the treatment will be successful,” says a statement released Thursday on his foundation’s website about the former president’s condition.
De Klerk headed the white minority government in South Africa until 1994, which is when Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress party came to power. De Klerk brought the country’s racial segregation and system of apartheid to an end, and helped establish non-racial democracy.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer, which presents as a tumor caused by asbestos exposure. The tumor may appear in the lungs, or in the heart, stomach, or other organs. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma will be diagnosed in 2021.
Treatments for this cancer may include surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy.
New Treatment Options
Treatments for mesothelioma have been slow over the years, but now there are a few options for those facing the disease. In October 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new first-line mesothelioma treatment called Opdivo-Yervoy Drug Therapy, which combines two immunotherapy drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab) to help destroy cancerous cells. While evaluating results of this therapy, researchers found that these two drugs may be able to limit tumor growth by increasing the function of patients’ T-cells.
In a clinical trial, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma were divided into two groups where one set of patients received only chemotherapy while the others received the combination of drugs. According to results, patients who received by Opdivo and Yervoy survived an average of 18.1 months after diagnosis while the patients who received chemotherapy alone survived only 14.1 months.
In 2019, the FDA approved NovoCure’s NovoTTF-100L System, which is a wearable medical device about the size of a backpack that uses electric fields to disrupt solid tumor cancer cell division. This development marked the first treatment to be approved for mesothelioma in the last 15 years.
Before the NovoTTF-100L approval, the only FDA-approved therapy for patients with these types of mesothelioma was a combination of chemotherapy drugs called pemetrexed and cisplatin. The new NovoCure system will also be used in combination with chemotherapy. While testing this treatment, researchers found that median survival rate for people treated with the new system plus chemotherapy was 18.2 months. However, it’s important to note that only 80 people participated in the trial.
“Typically, mesothelioma patients who cannot have surgery receive palliative care to mitigate their symptoms,” Mary Hesdorffer, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, previously told SurvivorNet. “NovoTTF-100L provides unresectable (malignant pleural mesothelioma) patients with a treatment option that may improve survival. We are encouraged by the FDA approval and hope it is just the beginning of innovation in the treatment of this aggressive disease.”
Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
People diagnosed with cancer may experience a broad range of emotions, from anger to grief, and even depression. Treatment and is available, in the form of therapy, support groups, or medicine.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Scott Irwin says, “Depression is a really interesting topic, because a lot of people assume that, oh, they have cancer. They must be depressed. That’s actually not true. 85% of patients do not get what would be considered a clinical depression. 15% do.”
“For prescribing medications for depression in the context of cancer, I often try to choose medications with the lowest side effect profile,” he says. “If patients are getting hormonal therapy, there’s particular antidepressants that we can’t use, because they may lower the effectiveness of that hormonal therapy. And so we choose antidepressants that don’t impact the cancer care.