Immune therapy key to extending lung cancer patients' lives
Immune therapy key to extending lung cancer patients' lives
Research suggests that many more lung cancer patients may benefit from treatments that boost the immune system
17 April, 2018, 13:49
"I've been a doctor for 38 years, lung cancer, especially if it's spread - metastatic - is something that has been a devil to me, it's been a devil to my patients and the thought we have an exciting new therapy, I'm really pumped about it", LaPook said. The combination treatment is a significant improvement, she said.
Rates of serious side effects were similar, but twice as many in the Keytruda group dropped out because of them.
Dr. Jorge Gomez, a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association and a medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NY, explained that "about 220,000 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer a year in the USA".
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally, causing 1.7 million fatalities a year.
Recalling a patient with advanced lung cancer whose tumor disappeared and has not grown back after finishing treatment 24 months ago, Gomez said, "I'm now becoming much more optimistic that if we can really find a way to flawless this treatment and to really figure out who are the patients who do the best and why that we may be able to do something like get rid of lung cancer for at least some patients". It is already approved as a first-line treatment for this disease, so it should be covered by health insurers.
The findings, published in the the New England Journal of Medicine, were reported on Monday at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Chicago.
A study involving people with advanced stage lung cancer found it nearly doubled their survival time, while another revealed that immunotherapy treatment shrank tumours before surgery.
Gandhi wondered, Would using immunotherapy earlier in treatment, alongside chemotherapy, do more for patients?
'I've never seen such a big paradigm shift as we're seeing with immunotherapy, ' he said. One Yale patient who has survived for eight years took the drug for two years and has remained well ever since.
Immunotherapy works by harnessing the body's immune system to attack tumors. The immunotherapy drugs did not help people with fewer tumor gene flaws. It is also possible, he said, that chemotherapy may kill some immune cells that interfere with the cancer-killing action of other parts of the immune system.
That's a big difference for such an advanced cancer, said Dr. Alice Shaw, a Massachusetts General Hospital lung cancer expert and one of the conference leaders.
In his own research, Hellmann said, his team finessed the dosing of the two drugs to minimize side effects, and found that the combination therapy was significantly better than chemotherapy alone against tumors with a lot of mutations.
The median time until cancer worsened was about 7 months on the immunotherapy drugs versus 5.5 months for chemo.
"What we look at in these trials is overall survival - how long patients live - and we look at a number called the median survival - how long 50% of patients live", said Gomez.
How much it ultimately will extend life isn't known - more than half in the Keytruda group are still alive; median survival was just over 11 months for the others.
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