Immunotherapy for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. It can be used to treat some people with small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
Immune checkpoint inhibitors
An important part of the immune system is its ability to keep itself from attacking normal cells in the body. To do this, it uses “checkpoints”, which are proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. But drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors target the these proteins, helping to restore the immune response against cancer cells.
These drugs are given as an intravenous (IV) infusion, typically every 2 or 3 weeks.
Possible side effects
Side effects of these drugs can include fatigue, cough, nausea, skin rash, decreased appetite, constipation, joint pain, and diarrhea.
Other, more serious side effects occur less often. These drugs work by removing one of the safeguards that normally helps keep the immune system in check. Sometimes the immune system starts attacking other parts of the body, which can cause serious or even life-threatening problems in the lungs, intestines, liver, hormone-making glands, kidneys, or other organs.
It’s very important to report any new side effects to your health care team promptly. If serious side effects do occur, treatment may need to be stopped and you may get high doses of corticosteroids to suppress your immune system.