Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Immuno-Chemotherapy Combo Extends Lung Cancer Victim's Survival Period

Immuno-Chemotherapy Combo Extends Lung Cancer Victim's Survival Period

One group of 400 patients received standard chemotherapy and the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, while a smaller group of patients received chemotherapy. One study, conducted by scientists at New York University, involved more than 600 patients with advanced lung cancer.

Immunotherapy, which harnesses the body's immune system to attack tumors, is known to improve survival in patients who have already been treated with chemo. The most common side effects were nausea, anemia and fatigue and in both groups about 65% of patients experienced severe side effects. The findings could prompt doctors to use immunotherapy as a first line of treatment for lung cancer, despite a hefty price tag of $13,000 per month.

A separate study by Johns Hopkins University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre tested the immunotherapy drug, nivolumab, on 21 patients about to have surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer.

Gandhi said chemotherapy alone had only a "modest benefit", and could add only a few months of life, with most patients surviving about a year or less.

The series of studies was yesterday presented at the American Association of Cancer Research in Chicago. "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years". Another had to stop because of side effects after only two or three months, but is still well two years later.

After a median followup of 10.5 months, those in the immunotherapy group were half as likely to die.

The other, vehicle T therapy, genetically reprograms a patient's immune T-cells to find and destroy cancer.

"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. 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.

The estimated survival after a year was 69 per cent in those taking the immunotherapy drugs compared to 49 per cent who only had chemotherapy.

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