Immunotherapy can transform lung cancer treatments, giving patients hope for longer lives, doctors said on Monday.
Pre-treating lung cancer patients with immune therapy drugs before they undergo surgery can help break down tumors, while limiting or even stopping the spread of cancer, NBC News reports. Combinations of immunotherapy drugs have even helped wean other lung cancer patients from the more dangerous but standard chemotherapy treatments, extending their life spans.
Roy Herbst, a lung cancer specialist at Yale Cancer Center, mentioned that the results of using these drugs are so surprising that it is likely every cancer patients should have the option for immunotherapy before anything else. Herbst, who was not involved in the study, said,
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 helps the human body fight off cancer through methods such as boosting the immune system, fighting tumor cells with the use of engineered immune system proteins, and so on.
These immunotherapy drugs include a new class of treatment that have helped keep former President Jimmy Carter’s melanoma from spreading. Lung cancer is the number cause of cancer death, both in the United States and globally.
In one study of immunotherapy drugs, a team at Johns Hopkins medical school treated 20 patients with one of the medicines before they completed surgery to remove tumors. One year later, 16 of the patients were alive and the cancer was in remission. While two other patients had recurring cancer, they had no symptoms after extra immunotherapy treatment. One other died of lung cancer, while another died due to an unrelated head injury.
Herbst said, “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.”
The results of the study were released at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.