The Big Idea: Treating cancer with immunotherapy

Cancer specialists have discovered a new way to activate the body's immune system. Immunotherapy may finally be the weapon needed to conquer one of medicines' fiercest foes.

Doctors diagnosed sarcoma in Sudhakar Iyer it is a rare and deadly soft-tissue cancer. He endured debilitating rounds of standard cancer treatment known as chemotherapy. It put his cancer in remission but left him weak.

Then the cancer returned. This time it spread to his lungs. Iyer qualified to take part in a clinical trial run by Dr. Gary Schwartz, chief of hematology and oncology at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He used a promising new treatment known as immunotherapy. Administered by an IV, the patient takes a drug that activates normally dormant T-cells. A T-cell is a type of white blood cell essential to the immune system.

In just a few months, immunotherapy seemed to be working for Iyer. The tumor on his lung went away.

Dr. Schwartz said doctors are seeing response rates that are extraordinary and unparalleled survivals.

In 2016, more than 1.5 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cancer and nearly 600,000 people will die of it, according to the American Cancer Society.

During immunotherapy, doctors administer drugs that will actually boost your immune system, training your own body to fight the cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, there are virtually no side effects.