“We're looking at another weapon in the arsenal”
A study recent found that a combination of two drugs that helped allow the immune system to fight the cancer -- ipilimumab and nivolumab -- stopped the deadly skin cancer melanoma from advancing for nearly a year in 58 percent of the cases.
In addition, there are other studies that have shown promise in treating lung cancer, according to CNN. Those involved in the fight against cancer are divided as to just how excited to get over the promise of immunotherapy in battling cancer.
"Immunotherapy drugs have already revolutionized melanoma treatment, and now we're seeing how they might be even more powerful when they're combined," said Dr. Steven O'Day, an expert with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"But the results also warrant caution -- the nivolumab and ipilimumab combination used in this study came with greater side effects, which might offset its benefits for some patients. Physicians and patients will need to weigh these considerations carefully," O'Day explained to CNN.
In the study, 36 percent of the patients receiving the two-drug combination had to stop the therapy due to side effects. Nell Barrie, a spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK, while calling the results "encouraging" and "promising," told CNN that a lot remains to be learned and the new drugs would not replace any of the existing cancer treatments.
According to Barrie, surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy would still be vital. Researchers had yet to study the long-term survival rates for immunotherapy, and the side effects can include inflammation of the stomach and bowel serious enough to require hospitalization, said Barrie.
But Dr. James Larkin, the lead author of the melanoma study, called the results a ‘game changer.’
"We've seen these drugs working in a wide range of cancers, and I think we are at the beginning of a new era in treating cancer.”
Barrie said immunotherapy could offer hope to people with cancers that are otherwise difficult to treat. "We're looking at another weapon in the arsenal,” he said.
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