Immunotherapy has become a breakthrough and life-extending cancer treatment. This FDA-approved treatment can slow down the spread of cancer cells in the body, or even eliminate the cancer cells altogether.
One type of cancer that immunotherapy has been successful with is non-small cell lung cancer. Immunotherapy is used to treat lung cancer after chemotherapy has failed, according to Melissa Wilson, MD, PhD, an oncologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. This means that either the chemotherapy could not successfully eliminate the cancer cells, or that the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This spreading of tumor growth is called metastasis.
More recently, immunotherapy has been FDA-approved to be used in conjunction with chemotherapy as a front-line treatment. This means patients with lung cancer can use immunotherapy with chemotherapy, which could potentially reduce the chances of metastasis.
What makes immunotherapy unique compared other cancer treatment is that it revs up the body’s natural immune system. Cancer cells often act like normal, healthy cells, so the disease-fighting T cells of the immune system often do not recognize them as dangerous.
To treat non-small cell lung cancer, doctors use a specific type of immunotherapy known as checkpoint inhibitors. These aid the immune system’s T cells to recognize the cancer cells as foreign, so they are more likely to target them effectively. You can learn about other types of immunotherapy to treat cancer here.