Immunotherapy for Non-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. Immunotherapy can be used to treat some forms of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
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” – molecules 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 newer drugs that target these checkpoints hold a lot of promise as cancer treatments.
Nivolumab, pembrolizumab and atezolizumab can be used in people with certain types of advanced NSCLC whose cancer starts growing again after chemotherapy or other drug treatments. Pembrolizumab and atezolizumab can also be used as part of the first treatment in some people with advanced disease. For people with Stage III NSCLC who cannot have surgery or chemotherapy along with radiation, pembrolizumab can be given first.
These immunotherapy drugs are given as an intravenous (IV) infusion every 2 or 3 weeks.
Possible side effects
Side effects of these drugs can include fatigue, cough, nausea, itching, skin rash, loss of appetite, constipation, joint pain, and diarrhea.
Other, more serious side effects occur less often. These drugs work by basically removing the brakes on the body’s immune system. 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.