"More fathers are walking their daughters down the aisle. More grandparents are seeing their grandchildren grow up. More families are staying together. This is very good news for people with lung cancer, and all who love them."
Paula Chadwick CEO of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
Advances in treatment for lung cancer
Lung cancer survival rates have continued to lag significantly behind that of other cancers; five years survival for lung cancer currently stands at 10 per cent, compared to 87 per cent and 85 per cent for breast and prostate cancers respectively. However, in recent years, there has been significant advances in new treatment for advanced lung cancer, including immunotherapy.
Immunotherapies help the body’s own immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells.
Cancer cells can sometimes find ways to trick the immune system into thinking they are normal cells and, therefore, should not be attacked.
Immunotherapy ‘lifts the cloak’ and allows the immune system to recognise and eradicate the abnormal cancer cells.
There are currently four immunotherapies available in the UK – atezolizumab, durvalumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab, the treatment at the centre of this new survival data.
Pembrolizumab is available to people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who have a PD-L1 expression of 50 per cent of more. It is given for up to two years.
As a patient nears the end of their treatment, it is understandable that they feel anxious about their future.
Immunotherapies are still a new way to treat lung cancer and the data about them is still growing. However, current evidence suggests that stopping immunotherapy after two years does not stop the patient’s response to it. This is because the immune system becomes re-programmed to better recognise cancer cells.
At Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, we have seen this when speaking to patients who have completed their course of immunotherapy and continue to enjoy life after their treatment has ended.
The study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) 2019 annual meeting. Dr Edward Garon, a lung cancer specialist at the University of California, led the study. He said:
“The uniformly negative outlook that has been associated with a diagnosis of advanced non-small cell lung cancer is certainly no longer appropriate.”
Dr Richard Schilsky, ASCO’s chief medical officer, added:
For some, it can greatly extend survival.”
For more information about immunotherapy and if you are eligible for this treatment, speak to your healthcare team.