Combining Immune Therapy and Chemotherapy for the Effective Treatment of Lung Cancer

The leading cause of death worldwide is lung cancer, causing 1.7 million deaths annually. Chemotherapy, which is widely used to treat it, has its own limitations. It cannot heal, but just add a few months to the patient’s life.

A major study has now found that the odds of their survival could improve greatly if chemotherapy is given along with immune therapy. In immune therapy, patients are given drugs that activate their immune system.

For the study the researchers chose 616 patients (aged from 34 to 84 years) with an advanced stage of lung cancer. They randomly assigned them to one of the two groups. The first group received chemotherapy and a placebo, while the second got both chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The immune therapy drug given was Keytruda or pembrolizumab, while the chemotherapy drugs were pemetrexed, plus either cisplatin or carboplatin.

They found that this combination treatment brought notable improvement in the patients’ health and increased their life span. This is because immunotherapy has the ability to heal. There are reports of immunotherapy patients living for more than eight years now. The working principle behind may be that chemotherapy pops open tumor cells and releases their content, which the immune cells triggered by the immunotherapy drugs identify and kill.

The immunotherapy drugs can however, help only some patients (usually fewer than half), are costly (over $100,000 per year), and can have serious side-effects. But, if the drugs work, they can bring long-lasting results.

So, chemotherapy alone is no longer a standard of care for lung cancer patients says a study-lead, Dr. Leena Gandhi, who is the director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at New York University Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. Medical experts believe that this combination treatment should soon be given to lung cancer patients.

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