A bright future on the horizon for curing lung cancer with your own immune system

September 10, 2019
“The latest research has shown that immunotherapy can radically increase the survival rates of patients with lung cancer in metastasis, which is a huge upgrade in the cancer-fighting arsenal of patients and physicians”

If you are reading this then chances are you’ve heard of immunotherapy. But do you know what immunotherapy is?

In a nutshell, immunotherapy helps your body’s own immune system to fight cancer. While immunotherapy already exists for many diseases, the latest research has shown that it can radically increase the survival rates of patients with metastatic lung cancer (an advance stage of cancer when cancer cells spread to a different body part from where it started). This is a huge upgrade in the cancer-fighting arsenal of patients and physicians.

Lung cancer affects a huge number of patients worldwide. It can be divided into two categories, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The latter accounts for up to 80% of all lung cancer patients.

Previously, immunotherapy relied solely on medication to stimulate the patient’s immune system into directly attacking cancer cells. Recent research has uncovered the protein PD-1, which played a role in preventing or “putting the brakes on” the activity of lung cancer patients’ immune systems, allowing some cancer cells to survive the attack.

This discovery has led to new possibilities for lung cancer treatment. Instead of simply stimulating the immune system to directly attack the cancer cells, the protein that holds the immune system back from completely killing the cancer cells can now also be disabled. This clears the way for the immune system to set upon the cancer cells unhindered.

The science behind this new treatment method – called Immune Checkpoint Therapy – won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly for Professor James Allison of the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in 2018.

The FDA has since approved many versions of anti PD-1 and PD-L1 medication for use in Immune Checkpoint Therapy to cure various forms of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer. Options include pembrolizumab, nivolumab, atezolizumab, or durvalumab.

The American Cancer Society has declared that the introduction of these medicines are nothing short of revolutionary for the treatment of lung cancer. Previously, just five percent of lung cancer patients with metastatic lung cancer would survive disease-free five years after diagnosis. Nowadays, however, Immune Checkpoint Therapy using pembrolizumab has increased this rate to 15-20 percent. When combined with chemotherapy or other forms of treatment, immunotherapy further increases the chances of survival for patients.

Immunotherapy has become the definitive form of treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. The advent of Immune Checkpoint Therapy creates a new benchmark for the quality of life and comfort of patients, and brings greater hope for complete remission.
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