General - June 21, 2017

Immunotherapy the New Frontier in Cancer Treatment

By Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, ONN-CG
Spring Forward

Welcome to the first Special Edition of CONQUER: the patient voice, which focuses on immunotherapies in cancer. With the recent explosion of new immunotherapies being approved by the FDA for the treatment of patients with cancer, and their promise for improvements in survival and reduced adverse events, every patient with cancer should become familiar with these new therapies and the hope they bring to patients, survivors, and their family members.

Although older types of immunotherapies have been around for quite a while, researchers have been working hard to understand the role of the immune system in cancer, and how to use this knowledge to develop new immunotherapies that can harness the patient’s healthy immune system to fight cancer cells and potentially cure cancer.

Read about how the new types of cancer immunotherapy drugs are able to expose cancer cells to the body’s immune system as “diseased cells that must be destroyed,” as Dr. Gershenhorn explains in his article. “My dream,” he says, “is that we will be able to move…away from chemotherapy and radiation, and see a larger number of immunotherapies used to treat and cure more types of cancer.”

In another article, Dr. Markman explains why immunotherapy works for some patients but not for others, and how researchers are trying to figure out how to overcome resistance to therapy in some patients to make sure that all patients can benefit from those new, powerful treatments.

Read also about the side effects of immunotherapies, which, as Ms. Andrews explains, are usually less severe than those associated with chemotherapy, and learn about the ways she suggests to manage those side effects and keep using those powerful therapies when possible.

Learn also from the articles that focus on specific types of cancer and the immunotherapies available for patients with those cancers, including bladder, lung, melanoma, and multiple myeloma. For example, in her article on immunotherapy for melanoma, Ms. Poole, a melanoma survivor, asks whether the costs of those expensive drugs are worth it, and her answer is yes, as long as patients can afford them (whether through their insurance or through financial support programs).

And learn how, after decades of no new therapies becoming available for patients with bladder cancer, the past year has brought new hope for survival, with the FDA approval of 5 new immunotherapies for this common type of cancer. And for patients with lung cancer, several new immunotherapies have become available, including for patients with specific genetic mutations, which may require a specific type of treatment.

Finally, learn what is involved in participating in a clinical trial with immunotherapies, and what may be the potential benefits of deciding to participate in such a trial.

So, as promised, there is a lot of information for you and your loved ones to read and learn from. We hope that this educational information prompts discussions with your doctor or your navigator to find out if you are a candidate for immunotherapy, or if you could participate in a clinical trial with a new immunotherapy.

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