Immunotherapy is revolutionizing the health care industry by adding extra years of life to people with lung cancer. A few years ago it was rare for patients with an advanced stage of this disease to live past two years but today it has become more common to do so. Immunotherapy treatment works by boosting immune system activity through engineered immune system proteins that target and unmask tumor cells. One of these drugs, Opdivo (Nivolumab), kills tumors by breaking them up and releasing them, causing a broad immune response. This response lets newly activated immune cells move through the body and attack small pieces of tumor that can cause metastasis (movement of cancer to a different site than originally developed).
New results released at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference in Chicago and published in the New England Journal of Medicine show more creative use of the drugs could alter how doctors treat lung cancer. When doctors pretreat a patient with immunotherapy before doing surgery, the tumor shrinks and can be slowed down or even stopped from spreading. These newer immunotherapy drugs can even help people get off of regular, more harmful chemotherapy drugs.
In one particular study at Johns Hopkins medical school, 20 people were treated with immune therapy drugs before having surgery to remove lung cancer tumors. After one year, 16 of the patients were still alive with no trace of cancer found. Two patients did see their cancer return, but did not experience anymore symptoms after additional treatment. Another study showed that when used with regular chemotherapy, Keytruda (Pembrolizumab) – a different immunotherapy drug – patients were 51percent less likely to pass away than those who simply received chemotherapy. Sixty-nine percent of patients who received Keytruda were alive after one year, compared to 49 percent of patients who only received chemotherapy.
With the improvements that both Opdivo and Keytruda have made towards fighting lung cancer, there is hope for people diagnosed with mesothelioma. Clinical trials are being done for Keytruda to treat mesothelioma and Opdivo is showing to be promising at fighting the disease as well. This makes it very possible for people with mesothelioma to live longer when given these treatments. A French clinical trial reported that Opdivo and a different immunotherapy drug called Yervoy (Ipilimumab) had half of the patients live longer after three months compared to less than one third of patients surviving without taking the two drugs together. With these improvements in immunotherapy, those suffering from mesothelioma may have more treatment options to and can potentially live longer lives.
Maggie Fox, “Immunotherapy Transforms Lung Cancer, the Biggest Cancer Killer,” NBC News (April 16, 2018). [Link]
“Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer,” NIH National Cancer Institute. [Link]
“What is Metastasis?” ASCO cancer.net (January, 2016). [Link]