Drugs for immune therapy are able to give patients with lung cancer a new chance to enjoy life for some extra years, said doctors on Monday.
They found that patients with lung cancer can be treated with immune therapy drugs before getting surgery to remove the tumor. These drugs will literally melt away the tumor, and they will stop it from spreading.
Other lung cancer patients tried this treatment instead of chemotherapy. A lung cancer specialist from Yale Cancer Center, Dr. Roy Herbst, who wasn’t involved in the study said that the results from immunotherapy are startling:
“I have never seen progress move so fast. The results today are really a paradigm shift. They will mean more lung cancer patients getting immunotherapy up front.”
Immunotherapy Helping the Body Fight Cancer
Through immunotherapy, the immune system of the body gets help in fighting off cancer: it boosts the immune system activity, it tracks tumor cells and targets tumors.
The treatment includes a new class of drugs that have helped to stall the melanoma of former US President Jimmy Carter.
And according to the new results shown in a study released at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago, these drugs could change the way lung cancer is treated. The study has also been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A team at Johns Hopkins medical school has treated 20 of their patients with immune therapy drugs before getting them into surgery to remove the tumors. After one year, 16 patients were alive, with no traces of cancer detectable. Two of them had their cancer back, but after receiving extra treatment, they showed no other symptoms. One of them died of cancer and the other died of a head injury (which had no connection to cancer).
Even though it was a small study, it shows that immunotherapy drugs are a good option before surgery. All these drugs were used on patients with advanced cancer because the drugs are new. There are more drugs available, and for this study, it was used Opdivo, which broke down the tumor for the immune system to fight it easier.
The Good News and The Bad News
Herbst said that “when the surgeons open the patients, they see the tumor almost melting away. That is extraordinary. It eats it away like a Pac-man. It probably creates a roller coaster of immune response. It is amazing news for patients with this disease.”
The bad news is that not all patients respond to the treatment and it cost over $100,000 – only a course of treatment. The lead study, Dr. Drew Pardoll of Johns Hopkins, said that he will not use “use the term cure until you survive for 10 years”.