Metastatic lung cancer has been a difficult disease to treat since lung cancer was recognized as a clinical entity about a hundred years ago. Survival was short and until about ten years ago had not been improved upon despite the invention of countless chemotherapy drugs. About ten years ago immune checkpoint inhibitors came on the scene. By way of background, our immune system fails to destroy invading cancers because it somehow recognizes the harm it can do to normal tissue. A class of drugs has been invented that keep the immune system from stopping itself, understanding that doctors would have then to tend to the damage done in the process.
Against this background, lung cancer has become a much more treatable disease. A series of drugs has been invented to unleash the immune system. Investigators from the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology an important study showing the full benefit of this approach when combined with standard best-available chemotherapy. Dr. Stark can provide you with the full article; request it in the box at the right. They did a three-arm trial using two different combinations of immune therapy with best available chemo versus chemo alone. The results showed substantial improvement with either immune treatment. Importantly about 20% of the immune patients continued alive at two years with no further fall off in deaths, implying that at least some of these patients were cured.
Dr. Stark weighs in: We all remember that Jimmy Carter was terminally ill with metastatic melanoma about ten years ago when his doctors at Duke tried one of these immune drugs, and he was cured. These observations extend this very important observation and portend great advances in cancer therapy.