The American Society of Clinical Oncology has named cancer immunotherapy as its 2016 Advance of the Year and cites cancer treatment as a transformative and promising strategy.
Dr. Daniel Nader, chief of staff and director of the Lung Center at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, is chief of CTCA’s national Division of Pulmonary Services.
“Immunotherapy is a revolutionary treatment … which modifies signals between the cancer cells and the patient’s own … defense mechanism,” Nader says. “This treatment allows the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer. There has been an explosion of drugs we are able to employ just in the last two years.”
According to the American Cancer Society, immunotherapy primarily works in two ways. One stimulates a patient’s immune system to “work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells”; the other gives a patient “immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.” To date, immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy or biotherapy, treats a variety of cancers.
“Immunotherapy may be an option for specific patients with lung cancer, melanoma, certain lymphomas, kidney and bladder cancer,” Nader says. “Therapy is chosen based on the specific type of cancer, the stage
of cancer, the patient’s underlying health and prior cancer treatments. The benefits of these treatments include directed immune therapy, not cytotoxic [damaging to cells] or indiscriminate treatments.”
Another advancement in genetic-based cancer treatment falls under the canopy of precision medicine. The National Institutes of Health defines precision medicine as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account … variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”
An example of genetic-based medicine in action is genomic tumor assessments. Nader explains that tumor tissue is tested for mutations or alterations in the tumor’s DNA.
“There are several mutations which are drivers of cancer growth,” he says. “Many … now have specific drugs which will inhibit their ability to grow the cancer. This allows targeted therapy for that cancer’s specific mutations. This is precision medicine and individualized cancer care. Knowing the genomic nature of a specific cancer allows for specific drug therapy, if there are targeted drugs for that specific mutation or genetic alteration.”
Nader adds that targeted therapy will probably be combined with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and adjuvant use to surgery and radiation therapy.