"Let it be. I don’t want any treatment. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be – and I’m going to go."
These were Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt's first words when he was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer back in August 2020.
"I had a backache – and I was being treated with some hot water bottles and painkillers. But one day, I suddenly felt breathless, and was rushed to a hospital. Doctors found that my lungs were filled with water, and subsequently they found a tumor," he recalled.
He further added, "My mother died of pancreatic cancer, my first wife (Richa Sharma) died of brain cancer. My first reaction was I do not want to take chemotherapy. If I am going to die, let me just die."
But his family, and the team under Dr Sewanti Limaye at Mumbai's Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, convinced him otherwise. Today, two years after intervention through precision oncology, Sanjay Dutt is cancer-free.
What Is Precision Oncology?
According to the American Cancer Society, precision oncology is an innovative approach to cancer treatment where the patient’s individual genetics – the genes that are mutated, causing their cancer to grow – is used to create a treatment protocol just for them. In short, the treatment is based on genetic mutation.
Speaking to the media, Dr Limaye, Director of Medical and Precision Oncology at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, called Dutt "the poster child" for precision oncology.
She first conducted multiple tests at the diagnosis stage. During these tests, his PD-L1 test came out positive. What does this mean?
A PD-L1 test uses a sample of cancerous tumor tissue to measure how much of a protein called PD-L1 is found on the cancer cells. This will check how much immunotherapy – the use of your own immune system – can help in your treatment. If your tumor cells have enough PD-L1 for you to use immunotherapy medicine, you may be able to start that medicine.
When the actor's results came positive, doctors drew up diagrams deciding the treatment.
But Dr Limaye said that a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy was used for Dutt. "His PDL was very high, but I didn’t have the courage to give him only immunotherapy," she said.
Sanjay Dutt – The Patient Who Continued Working Out During Chemo
Recalling Sanjay Dutt the patient, Dr Limaye said how the actor refused to let cancer get to his mental health.
"He said I'm going to think that I don't have cancer. Whatever it is, I am going to beat it."
During his chemotherapy and the days that followed, Dutt would also exercise everyday, Dr Limaye added.
"He would spend two hours on the treadmill, and even send the pictures of the dashboard," she said.
The actor spoke about how he decided that he did not want to hide cancer from anyone – and even went for filming during his chemotherapy.
"People don't want to make it public due to many factors. But I chose to speak about it, at the cost of my career, so that I could help people in need," Dutt said.
On one occasion, he convinced his doctors that shooting for a film scene would boost his morale – and that "he would only be standing in one place". However, he went on to film a scene where he was harness-strapped and hung upside down for six hours.
But here he is now – cancer-free, thanks to the treatment under the watchful eyes of his doctor.
“I am a reel life hero, but Dr Sewanti is a real life hero. She is like Munna Bhai MBBS,” he remarked.