(BPT) - “You have lung cancer.” Those are four words no one ever wants to hear. But this year, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 224,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease.1 It’s one of the most common cancers, as well as the most deadly – taking more lives in the U.S. each year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.1
But there are reasons to have hope. Lung cancer has been a major area of focus for researchers and doctors in recent years, and new medicines are now available for people with the most serious forms of the disease.
Dr. Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, Chief of Medical Oncology and Associate Director for Translational Science at Yale School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center, provides insight into lung cancer and discusses a promising new treatment option for people with the disease.
Q: Why is lung cancer such a deadly disease?
A: The majority of people with lung cancer are diagnosed when their disease is in advanced stages, usually because that’s when symptoms begin to appear.1 Radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, and, more recently, targeted therapy, typically serve as the foundation of lung cancer treatment for people with advanced disease.2,3 However, a new type of treatment called cancer immunotherapy has become available and works differently from those therapies.
Q: What is cancer immunotherapy?
A: Cancer immunotherapy is a type of treatment designed to work with a person’s own immune system to help fight cancer. The immune system is designed to detect and protect the body against things that are foreign or abnormal. For example, it can recognize slight changes in normal cells that have become cancerous, and can eliminate those abnormal cells. However, cancer is smart and it has found ways to camouflage itself from the immune system. Cancer immunotherapy may help the immune system detect those cells and activate the immune system to help fight cancer.4 Immunotherapy can also affect normal cells.5
Q: What are some recent advances in cancer immunotherapy for lung cancer?
A: In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the cancer immunotherapy TECENTRIQ® (atezolizumab) for the treatment of people with a specific type of lung cancer called metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who have disease progression during or following platinum-containing chemotherapy, and have progressed on an appropriate FDA-approved targeted therapy if their tumor has EGFR or ALK gene abnormalities.6
This approval of TECENTRIQ – the first and only approved cancer immunotherapy designed to target and bind to a protein called PD-L1 (programmed death ligand-1) – is important because there is a significant need for new treatment options for lung cancer. The approval is in part based on results from a large Phase III study that showed TECENTRIQ helped people with previously treated metastatic non-small cell lung cancer live longer compared with those who received a type of chemotherapy called docetaxel.
Q: Are there any side effects I should know about?
A: TECENTRIQ may cause serious or life-threatening side effects including lung problems, liver problems, intestinal problems, hormone gland problems, nervous system problems, eye problems, severe infections and severe infusion reactions.7 It’s important to remember that every patient is different, so they should speak with their doctor about treatment options and side effects.
Q: Is immunotherapy right for my lung cancer?
A: If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s important to talk to your healthcare team about all potential treatment options. Not all immune systems are the same, and each cancer is different, so not all people will respond to the medicine in the same way.
Q: Where can I learn more about immunotherapy and lung cancer?
A: Your doctor is the best resource to learn more about your options. You can also visit a lung cancer support organization, such as the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF) at lungcancerfoundation.org.
Dr. Roy S. Herbst is nationally recognized for his leadership and expertise in lung cancer research and treatment. He is best known for his work in the personalized therapy of non-small cell lung cancer, in particular the process of linking genetic abnormalities of cancer cells to novel therapies.8
Important Patient Indication and Safety Information7
TECENTRIQ is a medicine that may treat lung cancer by working with the body’s immune system. TECENTRIQ can cause the immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in many areas of the body and can affect the way they work. These problems can become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death.
Possible serious side effects with TECENTRIQ include, but are not limited to, lung problems, liver problems, intestinal problems, hormone-gland problems (especially the thyroid, adrenal glands and pancreas), nervous system problems, severe infections and severe infusion reactions.
The most common side effects of TECENTRIQ include feeling tired, decreased appetite, shortness of breath, cough, nausea and constipation.
Before receiving TECENTRIQ, patients should tell their doctor if they have immune system problems such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or lupus; have had an organ transplant; have lung or breathing problems; have liver problems; have a condition that affects your nervous system or are being treated for an infection.
Patients should tell their doctor if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. TECENTRIQ can harm an unborn baby and it is not known if TECENTRIQ passes into the breastmilk.
Patients should tell their doctor about all of the medicines they take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements.
These are not all of the possible side effects of TECENTRIQ. For more information, patients should ask their doctor or pharmacist. Patients must tell their doctor about any side effects.
Report side effects to the FDA at (800) FDA-1088, or http://www.fda.gov/medwatch. Report side effects to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.
Please visit http://www.TECENTRIQ.com for the TECENTRIQ full Prescribing Information for additional Important Safety Information.
1 American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer (Non-Small Cell) Detailed Guide. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003115-pdf.pdf. Accessed Aug. 8, 2016.
2 Zarogoulidis K, Zarogoulidis P, et al. Treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Journal of Thoracic Disease: 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791496/
3 American Society of Clinical Oncology. Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell - Treatment Options. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/lung-cancer-non-small-cell/treatment-options
4 American Cancer Society. What is cancer immunotherapy? http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/immunotherapy/immunotherapy-what-is-immunotherapy
5 American Cancer Society. Cancer Immunotherapy. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003013-pdf.pdf
6 FDA.gov. Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ). http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/InformationOnDrugs/ApprovedDrugs/ucm525780.htm
7 TECENTRIQ (atezolizumab) Prescribing Information. Genentech, Inc. 2016.
8 Roy S Herbst, MD, PhD. Yale Cancer Center. https://medicine.yale.edu/cancer/patient/people/roy_herbst.profile