Immunotherapy: New Hope for Lung Cancer Treatment

Listen to Dr. Mary Jo Fidler and lung cancer survivors, Karen and Donna, talk about the hope of lung cancer immunotherapy. Supported by an educational grant from Merck.

Karen: It was right around Thanksgiving, I'd been having chest pains and I was afraid at one point I was even having a heart attack. So I went to have it checked out and my heart was okay, but they found something more serious.

Donna: In November of 2012, I had gone to the doctor to find out why I kept gaining weight. I assumed I had thyroid problems.

Karen: The phone rings, I answer and it's my doctor. And she says, "Karen, I've got some rough news for you. It looks like you've got lung cancer."

Donna: Please don't let it be lung cancer because that's not a good diagnosis. The doctor called and I probably only had about four months to live.

Karen: I did chemotherapy, I did some maintenance therapy, and I did some more chemotherapy, but during that time the tumors began to grow some more.

Donna: So I began chemotherapy and I responded poorly, and so the doctor took me off of the chemotherapy for a few weeks and the tumors really began to grow.

Karen: We talked about the options and decided that immunotherapy was a good possibility and decided that's exactly what we would do.

Donna: I could start in a clinical trial for immunotherapy. I thought about it for about three minutes, and chose to go into the clinical trial.

Mary Jo Fidler: Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that is designed to help the patient's own body fight the cancer cells. The immune system is constantly surveying our body to see what doesn't belong. In particular, the immune system uses T cells to find and destroy cancer cells and viruses. The genes of the cancer cells are unstable and constantly changing, and that allows cancer cells to acquire new skills to avoid the immune system. One way it does this is through the development of the PDL1 protein, which can silence T cells that have been activated against the cancer.

The immunotherapy drugs that we have for lung cancer are given through the vein, usually through an I.V. What they are doing is blocking the interaction between the PDL1 protein and the activated T cells. This is supposed to release the brakes on the immune system and let the immune system do its job and kill the cancer cells.

For me, immunotherapy in lung cancer has been the most exciting treatment that I have seen in my career.

Donna: Immediately upon beginning the immunotherapy, my tumors stopped growing and have remained stable for three years and counting.

Karen: It's something that I think is worth talking to your doctor about, just to see if it might be right for you.

Page last updated: September 13, 2021

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