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Immunotherapy Drugs Give the Body a Fighting Chance Against Lung Cancer
New FDA-approved treatments aid the immune system in killing cancer cells
Louisville, Ky. (November 11, 2015)—Though Kentucky continues to lead the nation in lung cancer deaths, advancements in detection and treatment mean those with the disease have the greatest opportunity yet for long-term survival. Recent FDA-approved therapies give the human body the ability to fight this often-deadly cancer using the body’s natural defense mechanism: the immune system.
Immunotherapy is a revolution in caring for patients with lung cancer. Recent studies have shown that, when immunotherapy is coupled with other treatments, lung cancer survival rates double.
Two drugs have been approved for the treatment of squamous and non-squamous cell, which together make up about 80 percent of all lung cancers.
The body’s immune system is meant to protect and kill bacteria, viruses and cancers. But cancer cells have mutated and learned to “hide” from the immune system, rendering white blood cells unable to recognize cancer cells as something that the immune system should battle.
Immunotherapy treatments work by removing the cancer cell’s “cloak,” making cancer visible to the immune system, allowing white blood cells to fight and kill the cancer.
“The introduction of immunotherapy for patients with lung cancer gives the body its best chance to fight the disease, and the patient the best chance to beat it,” said Goetz Kloecker, MD, medical oncologist at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, part of KentuckyOne Health, and associate professor UofL school of medicine. “Immunotherapy offers new hope for lung cancer patients, particularly where other means of treatment have failed.”
Immunotherapy drugs often work as a supplement to more traditional cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Unlike many cancer treatments, the toxicity in immunotherapy treatments is mild, roughly 95 percent of patients tolerate the drugs well with minimal side effects. Less than 10 percent of patients experienced side effects that were disruptive to daily life. Immunotherapy is currently FDA-approved for the treatment of lung cancer and melanoma, but research is underway to determine its application for a number of other cancers.
“Combined with early diagnosis, immunotherapy drugs like nivolumab and pembrolizumab, known as Opdivo and Keytruda, mean that a lung cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence,” said Kloecker. “These treatments are a great way to generate hope for millions of cancer patients worldwide.”
Thanks to low-dose computed tomography (low-dose CT), available at KentuckyOne Health, physicians are now able to diagnose the disease at its earliest stages.
“For the 220,000 Americans diagnosed with lung cancer this year alone, advancements in screening and treatment can mean the difference between life and death,” said Kloecker. “We must continue to find new treatment options and ways to diagnose lung cancer at its earliest stages, while encouraging smoking cessation.”
Previously, lung cancer was only detectable through traditional chest x-ray, which didn’t allow for diagnoses until the disease had begun to show symptoms in its later stages, when it was often too late to treat effectively. Low-dose CT screening is covered by Medicare and most insurance providers for those at high risk for developing lung cancer.
Low-dose CT is recommended for adults ages 55 to 77 years old who currently smoke, have a 30 pack-year smoking history or who have quit the habit within the last 15 years. Pack-years are calculated by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person smoked.
For more information about fighting lung cancer with immunotherapy, or to set up a low-dose CT scan, call 855.34KYONE (59663).
About KentuckyOne Health
KentuckyOne Health, the largest and most comprehensive health system in the Commonwealth, has more than 200 locations including, hospitals, physician groups, clinics, primary care centers, specialty institutes and home health agencies in Kentucky and southern Indiana. KentuckyOne Health is dedicated to bringing wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. The system is made up of the former Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare and Saint Joseph Health System, along with the University of Louisville Hospital and James Graham Brown Cancer Center. KentuckyOne Health is proud of and strengthened by its Catholic, Jewish and academic heritages.