Immunotherapy brings new hope for late stage lung cancer

AUSTIN (KXAN) --  For decades, the standard of care for many cancers has been a three-pronged approach: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. More recently, doctors added a fourth course, immunotherapy. It arms the patient's own immune system with more weapons to target cancer cells. And new treatments continue to get FDA approval.

Doctors like Seton Medical Oncologist Boone Goodgame say it's working for even the deadliest form of cancer: lung.

"Even to this day, so many doctors believe when you're diagnosed with lung cancer there's really nothing to do about it. But that's just not true at all," said Dr. Goodgame, who is also assistant professor of internal medicine at The Dell Medical School.

He tried an immunotherapy treatment with a Stage 3 lung cancer patient, who wasn't responding well to chemotherapy. "About six months after he was diagnosed, his cancer progressed, he ended up with Stage 4 cancer," said Dr. Goodgame. "And at that time, one of these new drugs had become available."

That patient was Ron Durst, and the cancer had also spread to his brain. "The first day I got the diagnosis of cancer, it hit me pretty hard because I was thinking, what am I going to do? Then I just decided – I fought for everything I got in my life, and I wasn't going to quit fighting then," said Durst.

Since they started the immunotherapy treatment, Durst's Stage 4 lung cancer has been in remission. Durst must get an infusion every two weeks. "I thank God every morning," said Durst. "I can look forward to a long and healthy life, which before, might not have been."

Just this week, another immunotherapy drug was approved by the FDA for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, as a first-line of defense instead of chemotherapy. Dr. Goodgame says there are little side effects with immunotherapy.

"If you look at the patients who are eligible for the new type of drug in the new setting, it's about one-third of all patients with lung cancer, so it's a lot of people."

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Next week, a panel of experts is coming together at The Dell Medical School, to talk about lung cancer in our community and ways to improve outcomes. Everyone is welcome to attend.

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