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By Paul Ossi, M.D.


Combination Treatment with Immunotherapy Drug May Increase Lung Cancer Survival

Certain patients with aggressive lung cancer may live longer when chemotherapy is combined with a new drug that boosts the immune system, according to a recent trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

When researchers at New York University’s Langone Health administered the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab to patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) without the mutated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) or the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene, survival doubled.  

In patients who received the new drug in addition to standard chemotherapy, disease progression or death was 48 percent less than that of patients who received chemotherapy with a placebo. Immunotherapy drugs work to boost the body’s anti-cancer defenses, while targeted therapy stops gene mutations. Since none of the patients in the trial had mutations in the EGFR or ALK genes, none qualified for targeted therapy.

Side effects were essentially the same in both the groups, although the risk of developing kidney injury was higher in the pembrolizumab group.

I believe the phase III study provides valuable insights that may lead to a new standard of care in these cases. Depending on the stage and other factors, treatment options for patients with NSCLC may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies. Approximately 80-85 percent of lung cancers fall into this category.

Combination therapy is a strategy where two or more therapeutic agents are combined to treat aggressive disease and offers the benefit of targeting multiple pathological processes. It is a common approach in cancer treatment and may be helpful in increasing cure rates, reducing symptoms, prolonging life and decreasing damage to vital organs.

Ackerman Cancer Center hosts a monthly support program for survivors of lung cancer at our Jacksonville office. This Monday, May 14th at 6:00 p.m., Dr. Jyoti will be speaking to the group about advances in lung cancer treatment. If you are interested in attending please call Kathleen McLean at (904) 880-5522.

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