Treatment combo improves lung cancer survival times, study finds

A combination of an immunotherapy drug from Merck and standard chemotherapy led to improved survival for cancer patients

Patients in the study had advanced non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type.

Immune therapy combined with chemo helped extend lung cancer patients' lives in clinical studies.

.

Leading researcher of this study, Dr. Leena Gandhi says 'What it suggests is that chemotherapy alone is no longer a standard of care.' she is the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program director for the Perlmutter Cancer Center at the New York University Langone Health.

A Johns Hopkins University study also found patients treated with Opdivo were less likely to have their cancer progress after one year. He said that tumor cells were like bags of hidden proteins that, if exposed, the immune system could use as targets to find and attack cancer. Many times, they give it after chemotherapy has failed.

Two thirds were given a combination of both immunotherapy drugs and chemotherapy while the remaining patients were given chemotherapy and a placebo.


They cost more than $100,000 a year, can have serious side effects and help only some patients, generally fewer than half. The report shows that 3.8 million people were diagnosed with cancer each year and more than 2.2 million patients died.

"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.

For non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer patients, median survival with chemotherapy alone is somewhere around 11 or 12 months, he said.

Gomez believes it could be as high as double chemotherapy alone, "which would be very impressive", he said.

Notably, the incidence rate of lung cancer among non-smoking Chinese females is rising comparatively faster compared with those in western countries. "Now, not everybody benefits unfortunately, but some of the people who benefit seem to benefit in a way we've never seen". 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.

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