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Immunotherapy Buzz

Immunotherapies are enabling some cancer patients to live beyond the time they were told they had left, the New York Times' Denise Grady writes. She cautions, though, that treatments don't work for everyone and can have side effects.

Grady recounts the story of a patient, Steve Cara who was told he had inoperable lung cancer. His doctor recommended that he join an immunotherapy clinical trial, and he was put on two checkpoint inhibitors. Two months in, Cara broke out into a rash, and though it was treated with a steroid cream, he was taken off one of the drugs. Still, at his first scan after treatment, Cara's tumor was smaller and a few months later, it was even smaller yet. He then, though, developed another side effect, pneumonitis, and his treatment had to be halted. But, his tumor had shrunk so much that it could be removed surgically. After the surgeons removed part of his lung, the pathologist found no hint of cancer anywhere.

"He's had the best possible response," Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's Matthew Hellmann, Cara's doctor, tells the Times.

But others like a 60-year-old man with lung cancer who was also Hellmann's patient don't respond to immunotherapy, Grady notes. That patient, though, did respond to chemotherapy.

"Immunotherapy represents a hugely important new tool, but chemotherapy can work too and has been the backbone of the way we've treated patients with lung cancer," Hellmann adds. "Immunotherapy is not a replacement for that. It's a new weapon."