By: Graham T. Watson, MD – Virginia Oncology Associates
The quickly expanding knowledge of cancer biology has led to new, highly effective treatments for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Advances in genetics have brought about targeted therapy with drugs that “target” a specific driver mutation. With deeper understanding of the immune system’s interaction with cancer cells, we can uncloak cancer cells that previously hid from immune destruction. For years, we have leveraged these therapies only in Stage IV lung cancer, but research has shown that that Stage III patients treated first with chemoradiotherapy can also gain benefit.
Immunotherapies such as nivolumab (Opdivo®) or pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) have helped patients with incurable, Stage IV, lung cancer live longer. While these drugs represent a major breakthrough, limiting their use to Stage IV patients is a frustration for both patients and doctors. While the goal of treatment in Stage III lung cancer patients is cure, the rates of recurrence are high. Finding treatment that can reduce this risk of recurrence is a worthy goal.