Rikki Rockett and Dr. Ezra Cohen, associate director and professor of medicine at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego, were interviewed by San Diego's Fox 5 shortly after the drummer was declared cancer free after undergoing an experimental treatment.
Rockett was diagnosed with oral cancer more than a year ago. Several months ago, he came to Moores Cancer Center, where he underwent experimental cancer immunotherapy, which has now eradicated the tumor.
Rockett says he joined the clinical trial not only out of concern about himself, but also about being around for his three-year-old daughter, Lucy, and his seven-year-old son, Jude.
"Well, I was nervous, because the surgeon that I met, that wanted to take my tongue out completely, which would have made me a mute, and he said, 'You know, I'm all for it, the immunotherapy, but if it doesn't work, you might get past the point where we can do something about this surgically.' So that was a real risk for me at that time."
The 54-year-old musician initially received radiation and chemotherapy, like many cancer patients, but became concerned when the cancer appeared to be returning.
"We are delighted that Rikki responded so well to immunotherapy. He had already been through a lot with chemotherapy and radiation treatment before he came to us, but his cancer recurred,'' Cohen said.
"That's the advantage of immunotherapy over traditional therapy — there are fewer side effects, we can specifically eradicate cancer cells almost anywhere in the body, and it's effective against tumors that are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation," he said.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new form of treatment that focuses on tricking the body's immune system into attacking cancer cells.
Rockett revealed last fall that his tongue cancer diagnosis was caused by HPV, the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. He said: "It is the number one leading cause of oral cancer these days. There's less and less of the truck drivers that chew tobacco for thirty years getting it, because people are more aware that that kind of stuff isn't good. So we are getting marathon runners and all these elite athletes with this. I have a friend that's a therapist, and five years ago, it was five percent of the people she treated, and now it's close to ninety percent."
He continued: "It can be spread sexually, but now they're saying that it can spread [through] deep-kissing and actually hand to mouth. I mean, if you see the Olympic swimmers, they swim and they smack their hand on the side of the pool for each lap, and their hands are full of warts and stuff from HPV. Now the wart kind of HPV is not the same as the strain that causes cancer, but it is spread almost identically. For men, you can't tell if you have it. For women, you can get a papsmear. But the doctor estimated probably it was fifteen [or] twenty years ago [when I contracted it], and my body probably got rid of it, but it mutated itself and my body would probably see that again and get rid of it. But there's no way to tell who got it. I mean, I know a couple that's been married for fifteen years and they've never cheated on each other, and they're pointing their finger at each other [after one of them was diagnosed with oral cancer], and it turned into a thing until the doctor sat 'em down and went, 'Look, you can get this so many ways.'"