Is Immunotherapy Making Lung Cancer a Chronic Condition for Some Patients?

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Topics include: Understanding and Treatments

Immunotherapy is not directed at cancer. Instead, it is directed to the patient’s immune system.  This type of therapy is the most recent breakthrough in oncology, and Dr. Scott Antonia, Chair of the Department of Thoracic Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, is leading the way. Surprisingly, lung cancer is very responsive to this form of treatment. However, even with a new drug in use, Dr. Antonia believes science and medicine are only scratching the surface with an “explosion” of possibilities expected to come in rapid succession.  With patients responding positively, some even with dramatic responses, Dr. Antonia reports that this is “the first time we can think about patients living a long time—months, even years.”

 

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power.  I'm Andrew Schorr.  We're on location in Tampa, Florida, at the Moffitt Cancer Center, And with me is the chair of the department of thoracic oncology, helps lead research here in immunotherapy, which is a very exciting area, Dr. Scott Antonia.  Welcome to Patient Power. 

Dr. Antonia:

Thank you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Antonia, so immunotherapy, immuno-oncology, do you feel that this could lead to breakthroughs and make a real difference for patients today and going forward who are living with cancers like lung cancer?  

Dr. Antonia:

It is, and it's surprising for lung cancer.  We didn't expect it, but clearly over the past three years it's—it's borne out that lung cancer is an immunotherapeutically responsive cancer. 

And not only is this modality, immunotherapy as an anticancer treatment modality, prolonging people's lives, the most exciting part about it is that there are some people who have nice responses to these immunotherapeutics who are actually living for a very long time.  So really this is the first time we've been able to think about that in patients who have advanced lung cancer, that people can live for a very long time with this—with their disease.  

Andrew Schorr:

Now, we've met one of your patients, Pam Griffith, who was a very sick lady.  Chemo and various drugs, and they just weren't working, and her cancer was winning.  And then you put her in a clinical trial for a drug that's just been approved, and she's playing golf three times a week.  So this seems like an example in this area of a miracle.

Dr. Antonia:

It's an example and doesn't—we don't have this result with everybody, but it's also not uncommon to do—to get a result exactly like that, someone feeling sick from their cancer with rapidly progressive disease that is threatening their life, even, that get put on these immunotherapeutics, have dramatic responses and begin to feel much better and lead a normal life for a long time now, months and now even years. 

Andrew Schorr:

Tell us a little bit about this new drug that's been approved, what we know about it and maybe if others are coming. 

Dr. Antonia:

It is, it's—that's also another exciting thing about this is really we're just scratching the surface, right?  This is just the first immunotherapeutic that has come onto the scene for the treatment of lung cancer, so this is really I think just the beginning of an explosion of a large number of immunotherapeutics that are going to come along very—in rapid succession here and all having more and more activity in this disease. 

Andrew Schorr:

So when you say immunotherapeutic, people know often the side effects of chemotherapy, if one of these new drugs is working for you, does that mean maybe you can have a higher quality of life as well?  

Dr. Antonia:

Right.  Understand that these immunotherapeutics aren't directed at the cancer per se, but really they just allow your own immune system to kill your own cancer.  And so they—in most people they have little or no side effects.  

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  

Dr. Antonia:

Now, it's not in all patients.  There [are] no absolutes in medicine ever, and sometimes there are side effects. And there can be even severe side effects, but it's in a relatively minor number of people. 

Just like these things can get patients' own immune systems to kill their own cancer, they can sometimes get their immune systems to cause damage to normal organs or auto?immunity. 

But again, fortunately, that's very treatable as well.  But the vast majority of people who get these drugs have little to no side effects, so a much better quality of life on that sort of treatment than—than sometimes with chemotherapy. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Well, thank you for all the work you do and your devotion to patients.  And we're so delighted that you're seeing among your patients real progress.  Thank you. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on July 28, 2015