A new study published Monday has improved the expectations of quick improvement in patients who have lung cancer, setting standards of care for about 70,000 US patients each year whose cancer has already spread by the time it is found. The treatment developed boosts the immune system in a very significant manner in people recently diagnosed with the most common form of lung cancer.

The study followed up the patients for 10.5 months. By the 12th month, the estimated rate of overall survival was 69.2%, while the group who received a placebo had a rate of 49.4%.

A total of 965 patients were screened for enrollment in 16 countries. Between February and March 2016, a total of 616 patients were randomly assigned to a pembrolizumab-combination group or a placebo-combination group.

The percentage of men was higher in the first group. About 88.1% of all of the patients were current or former smokers.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ASC), lung cancer begins when cells of this organ become abnormal and start to grow out of control. The more cancer cells develop, the more chances to form tumors and to eventually spread to other areas of the body. Even though there are subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer, they are grouped together because the approach to treat them and its prognosis is usually similar.

Lung cancer, Immunotherapy, Pembrolizumab
This treatment could improve medicine nowadays. Image credit: Immuno-oncology News

The ASC claims that it is unknown what causes each type of lung cancer. Still, it mentions some factors that represent higher risks, just as how some of them cause cells to become cancerous.

Among the factors, smoking tops the list. The ASC explains that tobacco is, by far, the leading cause of this type of cancer. There’s even a statistic that portrays how this same reason causes 80% of lung cancer deaths.

Statistics of specific types and stages of cancer usually suggest about five years, but many people live longer than that.

“For example, a 5-year survival rate of 80% means that an estimated 80 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis,” explains the ASC.

Cancer Immunotherapy

The immunotherapy is a type of treatment that makes specific parts of a subject’s immune system to fight diseases like cancer. There are two particular methods to achieve this:

The first one is by stimulating the person’s immune system to work harder, or smarter, to attack the cancer cells. The second method is to give the immune system components like human-made immune system proteins.

Lung cancer, Immunotherapy, Pembrolizumab
Tobacco is the main reason why people die from lung cancer. Image credit: Getty

The immunotherapy has become a fundamental field when treating some types of cancer. Like the recently developed treatment, some other either boost the body’s immune system overall or train the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically. In the latest study called “Pembrolizumab plus Chemotherapy in Metastatic Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer,” the team explained:

“We randomly assigned (in a 2:1 ratio) 616 patients with metastatic nonsquamous NSCLC without sensitizing EGFR or ALK mutations who had received no previous treatment for metastatic disease to receive pemetrexed and a platinum-based drug plus either 200 mg of pembrolizumab or placebo every 3 weeks for 4 cycles, followed by pembrolizumab or placebo for up to a total of 35 cycles plus pemetrexed maintenance therapy.”

Their primary endpoints were overall survival and progression-free survival. However, adverse effects occurred in 67.25 of the patients in the pembrolizumab-combination group, and in 65.8% of those in the placebo group.

Augmentin life expectancy

The results of the study were discussed on Monday at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago. Doctors claimed it was something that made them beyond hopeful.

An internist and gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, Dr. Jon LaPook, said that after being a doctor for 38 years, lung cancer is still “the devil” to him and his patients, and that now he’s excited about this new therapy.

Lung cancer, Immunotherapy, Pembrolizumab
The statistics give hope to about 70 thousand patients each year. Image credit: Getty

Another study found that Bristol-Myers Squibb drugs Opdivo and Yervoy worked better than chemotherapy for delaying cancer worsening in advanced lung cancer patients.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine used a mix of Keytruda, Merck, Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Tecentriq and Genentech to create its pembrolizumab combination. The drugs, given through IVs, cost about $12,500 a month.

“In patients with previously untreated metastatic nonsquamous NSCLC without EGFR or ALKmutations, the addition of pembrolizumab to standard chemotherapy of pemetrexed and a platinum-based drug resulted in significantly longer overall survival and progression-free survival than chemotherapy alone,” the team concluded.

Source: The New England Journal of Medicine