Breakthroughs in Lung Cancer Therapy

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Lung cancer is the most deadly cancer among men and women in the United States as well as internationally.  The American Lung Association discusses how many people get lung cancer and why it is such a big concern and, that, while the majority of lung cancer cases are related to smoking, not all are, “An estimated 158,040 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2015, accounting for approximately 27 percent of all cancer deaths… During 2015, an estimated 221,200 new cases of lung cancer were expected to be diagnosed, representing about 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses… Smoking, a main cause of small cell and non-small cell lung cancer, contributes to 80 percent and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men, respectively. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Women are 13 times more likely, compared to never smokers. ”

Lung cancer is typically treated with a variety of treatment options including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.  New advancements in lung cancer treatments and therapy have many excited about the potential they hold.  Time elaborates on the advancements in lung cancer treatment, “On March 5, a novel way to treat lung cancer won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The latest drug, Opdivo, has showed promise with other cancers, and is the first to use the immune system to tackle hard-to-treat lung tumors. Opdivo (nivolumab), made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, works the same way that releasing a parking brake frees a car to move. Normally, the immune system is held back from recognizing tumors as foreign and potentially harmful, since tumors are the body’s own cells that grow abnormally. Without such checks, “the immune system will destroy you,” says Dr. James Allison, chair of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center who discovered the first such brake that protected cancer cells from the immune system. But nivolumab releases this check on the immune system’s normally voracious appetite for anything it doesn’t recognize, so the body’s own defenses can preferentially recognize tumor cells as targets. In the study submitted by the company to the FDA, 15% of patients showed some shrinkage or complete disappearance of their tumors… Unlike surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or the anti-cancer drugs that interrupt specific signals that tumor cells use to survive, nivolumab doesn’t target the tumor itself. Rather it focuses on the environment in which the tumor lives, unleashing the immune system so it can recognize cancer cells more easily. “This drug doesn’t treat cancer; it doesn’t kill cancer cells so you can’t inject it and expect cancer to melt away immediately because it won’t,” says Allison. But when it’s combined with tumor-targeted treatments, what it could do is lower the risk of recurrent cancers by training the body’s T cells to recognize specific features of tumors, just as they do for viruses and bacteria, so the immune system can be alerted more quickly and efficiently to dispatch any returning or remaining cancer.”  Additionally, the FDA recently approved another drug called Keytruda for treatment of lung cancer.  The FDA explains how Keytruda can be used, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today granted accelerated approval for Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to treat patients with advanced (metastatic) non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease has progressed after other treatments and with tumors that express a protein called PD-L1… Keytruda works by targeting the cellular pathway known as PD-1/PD-L1 (proteins found on the body’s immune cells and some cancer cells). By blocking this pathway, Keytruda may help the body’s immune system fight the cancer cells.”  These are exciting advancements and if you think you may be able to benefit from these treatments, or are just curious to learn more, consult your physician to discuss potential treatment options so that you can receive medical advice based on your personal health history.

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