Therapies that train the body’s immune system to attack cancer tumors are among the cutting edge of attacking the deadly disease. However, as a recent article on the BBC pointed out, tumors have some defenses against this approach, putting out a protein called PD-L1 that turns off the immune system and thus stopping the attack cold.
A new suite of medications called Nivolumab is now undergoing clinical trials in the United States and Europe to stop cancer from inhibiting the immune system, allowing it to do its job. The approach has shown to be promising in patients who have lung cancer, a disease that is particularly deadly because it is often caught late and is caused, in most cases, by smoking.
Initial test results have added months to the lifespans of advanced lung cancer patients, sometimes even doubling them. The results have provided hope that people with lung cancer can have extended lifespans, even after standard chemotherapy has failed. Nivolumab and other drugs now being tested will likely soon become a standard part of treatment for lung and other cancers. Nivolumab is already approved in the United States for the treatment of melanoma.
A couple of caveats exist concerning the new drugs, however. First, not enough information is available about the long-term effects of altering the body’s immune system. However, for patients facing death from cancer, this concern is something most will be willing to deal with/
The other problem is that these drugs tend to be very expensive, thus providing a challenge for health services that seek to provide them.
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