This recent treatment option works by supporting and boosting the body’s natural immune system in the fight against cancer.
In spite of sustained efforts from every national health institution and even international groups, like the World Health Organization, lung cancer continues to be a leading cause of mortality worldwide. A general lack of awareness, the tendency to ignore the first signs of disease and, for some, just the thought of having to undergo chemotherapy, all contribute to making the malignancy even more terrible.
Fortunately, a new form of treatment has been shown to be more effective and improve survival rates compared to the current options, while at the same presenting fewer negative effects.
Immunotherapy helps existing antibodies either block an abnormal protein in the cancer cell or bolster their ability to locate and neutralize the affected cells. Scientists found that lung cancer was exploiting a certain immune checkpoint, PD-L1, to escape detection. By using an inhibitor like Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), the body’s immune system became better at fighting back.
Studies revealed that Pembrolizumab immunotherapy could increase median survival rates from one to 2.5 years and above. Another advantage is fewer less impactful side effects. While chemotherapy is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, hair loss and low blood count, the most common reactions for Keytruda were rash, fatigue, and thyroid gland dysfunction.
Immunotherapy is also faster, with sessions taking only half an hour every three weeks compared to chemotherapy, which can require three or four hours.
So far, the treatment has exhibited the best results for non-small cell lung cancer, but is being recommended for other forms of cancer where it presented significant positive results, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, classic Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL), primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL), gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ), melanoma and urothelial cancer.
Pembrolizumab/Kaytruda is an FDA approved drug and is slowly becoming a standard treatment.