For Advanced Lung Cancer, Immune Therapy Plus Chemo Prolongs Survival

Lung cancer is the second-most-common malignancy in the United States, after breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 234,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year, and 154,050 will die of it.

Most patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer — disease that has spread beyond its original site — initially receive chemotherapy, which provides only marginal benefit. But the disease is so lethal that many patients don't survive long enough to try second- or third-line treatments, so researchers are trying to develop and use more effective approaches earlier.

The trial that grabbed much of the spotlight is a randomized effectiveness study that involved more than 600 untreated patients with advanced nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer — a common type of the disease. The patients did not have cancer-causing mutations. One group was treated only with chemo, while the other got an immunotherapy drug called Keytruda plus chemo. Some of the results had been released previously, but not specific details.

After a median follow-up time of 10.5 months, Gandhi said, the patients in the combination group were 51 percent less likely to die, compared with patients in the chemo-only arm.

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