PLAINS, Ga. -- After several rounds of a new form of cancer therapy, former president Jimmy Carter announced at his hometown church Sunday that he is no longer receiving cancer treatments.
Carter, 91, was first diagnosed with a form of melanoma that spread to his brain in August 2015. After three weeks of a special therapy treatment, he announced that there were no signs of cancer on his brain.
Now, after several months, it looks like treatment will end altogether.
Carter explained the procedure he'd gone through to his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., NBC News reported.
And as he gave the latest update, an audible sigh of relief could be heard across the sanctuary.
"It's a treatment called immuno-therapy and it removed the obstacles to my own immune system to fight against cancer, basically – it's kind of complicated," Carter said. "But it's worked very well for me and I had an MRI for 2 hours and 10 minutes and then the doctors determined that I didn't need any more treatment."
Carter's spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said in an email to the Associated Press that his doctors will continue to perform scans to ensure cancer cells have not returned, and Carter will "resume treatment if necessary." A spokesman for Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute, where Carter has been treated, declined to comment on Sunday, citing patient privacy.
Carter's treatment plan for the aggressive form of cancer including a round of targeted radiation at several tumors on his brain and doses of an immune-boosting drug every three weeks from August through February. The drug, Keytruda, was approved not long before Carter's announcement and helps his body seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Medical experts have called Keytruda and similar immune therapy drugs "game-changing" for patients with melanoma. But the drugs are relatively new, and doctors are still learning about how they should be used and for how long, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. He is not involved in Carter's treatment.
"Some people believe they should be continued as long as a patient is doing well, some feel the drugs should continue for a period of time and then be stopped," Lichtenfeld said. "This is clearly a (decision) based on individual evidence specific to the president and made with his doctors."
Carter made another unexpected announcement about his health at a December class, telling the audience that a recent scan of his brain detected no sign of cancer. At the time, Carter told the group that he planned to continue receiving doses of Keytruda every three weeks. He has said the drug caused few side effects.
Jill Stuckey, a Maranatha Baptist Church member, said in a phone interview that Carter's updates have become "a pattern for our church."
"President Carter comes in, tells us phenomenal news and we all applaud," Stuckey, also a close friend of the Carters, said. "We're all on pins and needles wondering how things are going, because you never know from looking at somebody."
Carter remained active throughout his treatment, including participating in a building project with Habitat for Humanity. He also continued work at the Carter Center, the human rights organization he founded after leaving the White House, contrary to his initial plans to step back during treatment.
Contributing: Associated Press
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