Stage IV kidney cancer patient sees success with RADVAX trial

Larry Carlson had always been an active guy. The 72-year-old worked in sales and marketing for most of his life, and had worked at the Dallas World Trade Center. So when Carlson was given the news that he had stage IV kidney cancer in November of 2014, his world felt like it was crashing in around him.

“I had a rather large cancer in my left kidney,” stated Carlson.

Carlson was diagnosed in Ft. Worth and began looking for treatment options.

“They were setting up the surgery, and I really wasn’t comfortable with the way that was going,” explained Carlson.

That prompted Carlson and his wife to look elsewhere and he found himself at UT Southwestern Kidney Cancer Program. After speaking with specialists, he chose to undergo surgery with Drs. Vitaly Margulis and Adam Yopp at Clements University Hospital.

“I trusted UT Southwestern. They had the right people. I just felt better about my decision,” said Carlson.

Carlson spent nine hours in surgery. He had a large tumor in the left kidney invading into his spleen and pancreas and a separate metastasis in the liver. The surgery involved removal of the left kidney with the tumor, the spleen, the tail of the pancreas and 20 percent of his liver. After this, however, he was cancer free.

He followed-up with Dr. Brugarolas, a medical oncologist, and the Director of the Kidney Cancer Program. Fifteen months later, however, a biopsy of a lung nodule showed that the cancer was back. Carlson started pazopanib, an oral drug that blocks blood vessels feeding the tumor. The treatment was rough, but it stopped the growth of the cancer.

After a few months on pazopanib, one metastasis under the diaphragm started to grow. As he was doing well otherwise, Dr. Timmerman, an international expert in advanced radiation treatment for kidney cancer, was consulted. He recommended stereotactic radiation. Stereotactic radiation or SAbR is a focused radiation treatment where beams are shot from multiple different angles converging on the tumor and administering lethal doses of radiation. UT Southwestern has one of the largest SAbR programs for kidney cancer in the country.

A few months later, however, other metastases started to grow, and Carlson enrolled in a new clinical trial involving immunotherapy called RADVAX, led by Dr. Hammers. RADVAX is a multi-institution, single-arm phase II study that assesses the combination of SAbR with the drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab in patients with metastatic clear-cell renal cell carcinoma.

“I’d try anything to fight this cancer,” explained Carlson.

The Radvax Trial was funded by Ralph Knapp (Virginia Beach, VA), who earlier had benefited from this approach. He and his wife Brenda raised over $300,000 with the help from their community to make this treatment available to other patients.

Carlson had been on the trial for three months when remarkable things started to happen. A large tumor on Carlson’s right shoulder disappeared.

“It’s amazing. Stage IV was hard. Everything just turned positive the minute we hit this hospital,” said Ann Carlson, Larry’s wife.

Though the journey is far from over, Carlson says he’s found hope at the Kidney Cancer Program.

“I found UT Southwestern when it looked hopeless. I had a fabulous surgical team that pulled me through one of the most difficult surgeries that anyone can have, and then from that who do I get but Dr. Brugarolas who’s one of the best. And then you see, along come the Knapps. And you know there’s a higher power in your life giving you some guidance,” explained Carlson.

Kidney Cancer Patient Story: Larry Carlson
72-year-old Larry Carlson was diagnosed with stage IV CCRCC in November of 2014. He came to the UT Southwestern Kidney Cancer Program shortly after. Larry shares his journey through diagnosis, surgery, and immunotherapy.