Harold Sokoloff: Beating Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma Thanks to Cemiplimab

Age: 93Port Washington, New York

I was diagnosed with locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma in the fall of 2018; I was 92 at the time. Given my age, I thought that my body would not hold up well to surgery and radiation so I opted for a new treatment, cemiplimab (Libtayo). It took only a few infusions with cemiplimab for the cancer to be gone from view. It is miraculous, and I’m fortunate to be able to continue with my normal life.

Ever since my wife died from melanoma in 2002, I have taken great care to get regular checkups with my dermatologist. At my appointment in 2018, the dermatologist noticed an area of concern on the top of my head.

A biopsy showed that it was cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common type of skin cancer. Because the cancer was large, I was told that it was considered locally advanced.

My dermatologist recommended that I see a surgeon who specialized in Mohs surgery, which is a common treatment for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. The Mohs surgeon told me that the cancer was so large that I would also need a plastic surgeon because I would need a skin graft once it had been removed.

A second doctor that I went to told me that six weeks of radiation was an alternative treatment option. This would have involved me going for treatment every day of the week for six weeks. There was no way I was going to do that at my age, I was 92 and it would have knocked me off my feet.

Fortunately my son learned that the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] had recently approved a new treatment for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma called cemiplimab. I made an appointment to see a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and I started treatment with cemiplimab in January 2019.

I go every three weeks to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After they have taken my vitals and I have spoken to the doctor, I get a 30-minute infusion of cemiplimab. The only side effect I have had is itching, but I have cream for that and it does not bother me anymore.

Cemiplimab has been a miracle drug for me. After just five or six infusions of the drug, which I call the potion, the cancer was no longer visible. In fact, I was just at my barber and he told me there was nothing he could see anymore.

After I have completed a year of cemiplimab infusions, the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will continue to monitor my progress and decide if and when to recommend additional treatment.

I know that we are continually making progress in medicine, with new drugs being developed all the time, but I feel very lucky that cemiplimab was approved right before I needed it. That is why I believe that we need to continue to fund research because it is the only way to find new cures for many other diseases.