News that a patient’s cancer has spread to the brain typically is a sign the end is near.

But cancer experts expressed hope after learning that former President Jimmy Carter’s melanoma would be treated with Merck & Co’s Keytruda, a new treatment that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

In a news conference on Thursday, Carter said he was battling the deadly skin cancer melanoma, which has spread to his liver and brain.

“Five years ago, we would have given him six months to live,” said Dr. Anna Pavlick, co-director of the melanoma program at NYU Langone Medical Center’s cancer center. “In this day and age, we can’t even put a label on it.”

Carter, 90, has already undergone surgery to remove the cancer from his liver and he will have a focused type of radiation to eradicate four spots of cancer that have developed in his brain.

He said he has already had his first infusion of pembrolizumab, sold under the brand name Keytruda. The drug, and a similar treatment called Opdivo from Bristol-Myers Squibb, are part of a promising class of drugs that disable programed death 1 or PD-1, a protein that keeps the immune system from spotting and attacking cancer cells.

They are not cheap. The drugs can cost $150,000 a year.

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