Immunotherapy—Helping Your Immune System Target Lung Cancer | American Lung Association

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Immunotherapy—Helping Your Immune System Target Lung Cancer

(September 26, 2016)

Most people hear the words "immune system" and think of its role in protecting you from a cold or the flu. Until recently, it hasn't been in the forefront of lung cancer discussions. Luckily, that is changing as new discoveries and drug approvals bring new hope to lung cancer patients.

2015 was a big year for lung cancer immunotherapy, with two drugs approved as a second-line treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. What does that mean? Previously a patient with non-small cell lung cancer, whose cancer progressed after being on treatment, wasn't left with very many options. Now, a number of those patients qualify to go on an immunotherapy drug.

Immunotherapy drugs for lung cancer activate the immune system to help your body recognize the cancer as harmful so your body can fight it. Immunotherapy sounds complicated and in some ways it is. The immune system is complex, made up of molecules and receptors that regulate the body's response to invaders. Cancer cells are also complicated and aggressive, making the interaction between the two something scientists have been trying to understand for a long time. In very basic terms, immunotherapy drugs harness the power of the body's immune system to fight the cancer.

While immunotherapy drugs are not for everyone and can have risks, for many patients these drugs are extending their lives. Researchers are also looking at immunotherapy drugs as a first-line treatment option.

Lung cancer patients get better care when they are educated and empowered. That is why we've created several resources to help de-mystify immunotherapy, and give patients the tools they need to talk to their doctor about this treatment option. Explore our interactive infographic and brochure to learn how lung cancer immunotherapy works, who is eligible, possible side effects and questions for your doctor. Also, watch two of our LUNG FORCE Heroes talk about their experience with lung cancer immunotherapy.

If you know someone with lung cancer, be sure to share these resources. While immunotherapy isn't the right choice for everyone, it is worth talking to your doctor about it as a potential treatment option.

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