December 29, 2014 | by Tami Dennis
Lung cancer experts understand the impact of molecular biology and the genetic makeup of tumors more than ever before. Now they’re using that knowledge to great effect.
“Each person’s tumor is somewhat different,” said Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope. “Now, with diagnoses and treatments, we’re focused on customizing in a precision way to attack a specific person’s cancer.”
Factor in a patient’s own immune system, which can attack lung cancer, and the ability to customize will grow even further. “There are new therapies that we’re looking at that activate a person’s own immune system against the lung cancer and seem to have some very durable long-term responses,” Reckamp said. And, she noted, they don’t rely on chemotherapy.
“The main problem with chemotherapy, and even the targeted therapies that we have, is that at some point the tumor becomes resistant to the treatment,” Reckamp said. “With these immune therapies, it’s activating your own immune system … so we’re seeing more long-term responses.”
Already, City of Hope is participating in research to assess such therapies. “We also have collaborations with some of our laboratory-based scientists who are trying to better understand the immune system within lung cancer and trying to harness that and maybe pair it with some of our immune therapies that we are developing at City of Hope,” Reckamp said.
She recounts the experience of one patient, Vicky Graham, who is currently being treated with a form of immunotherapy using what’s known as a PD-L1 inhibitor, for “programmed death-ligand 1.”
When Vicky’s lung cancer recurred eight months ago, she was treated with a PD-L1 inhibitor instead of traditional drugs, Reckamp said. Now, Vicky is “living her life like it’s normal – and she’s never received chemotherapy for this metastatic disease." (Read Vicky's story, and the stories of other patients who will be riding City of Hope's Rose Parade Float.)
Many research organizations are currently enrolling patients in trials of various inhibitors, Reckamp said. Often, the trials will involve only one or two patients, but that’s how research starts – with one or two patients, then more, then still more.
Ultimately, patients everywhere have a new tool in the effort against cancer.
Sayeh Hirmand contributed to this report.
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