Sarah Cannon - November 27, 2014

Until recently, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and hormone therapy have been the standard treatment options for cancers. But recent clinical trials suggest a new class of therapy, designed to boost the immune system, may offer an effective and safe approach to fighting cancer.

One recently approved drug, pembrolizumab, has shown to be an effective treatment for advanced melanoma. The drug works by blocking PD-1, a cellular pathway that restricts the body's own immune system from attacking melanoma cells.

How does immunotherapy work?

In simplest terms, said David Spigel, M.D., Director, Lung Cancer Research Program, Sarah Cannon Research Institute, cancer cells have a way of applying a brake on the immune system, and immunotherapy lifts the brake and allows the immune system to recognize cancer as a threat. With these advancements there are some patients with significant shrinkage in their cancer, and even more living long periods without cancer growing.

How immunotherapy benefits patients

Results from clinical trials highlight direct patient benefits including:

  • Broad safety with largely reversible side-effects.
  • tumor shrinkage in some patients
  • Prolonged control of the disease in many patients

What the future holds

Ongoing trials will focus on a variety of cancer types and specific tumor proteins, offering options for patients with poor performance status or those that aren&rsqho;t qualified for new drug trials. This immunotherapy class of treatment really appears to be a way of effectively treating a broader group of people. For immunotherapies to take the next big leap, we will have to find a way to narrow that broad approach by targeting specific tumor proteins, said Dr. Spigel. It is through ongoing research and these varied disease-type study opportunities that we can continue to improve cancer care and improve patients' lives.

For more information about immunotherapy trials at Sarah Cannon contact Ask Sarah by email.


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