Immunotherapy promising for cancer treatment, but Baltimore doctor warns of side effects - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Immunotherapy promising for cancer treatment, but Baltimore doctor warns of side effects

Immunotherapy treatments have been a boon to many cancer patients, but one Baltimore doctor warns of the potential side effects that some patients may experience.

Immune-based therapies are showing promising results for patients with mesothelioma and small cell lung cancer, but doctors say better predictive markers are needed to determine who would most benefit from this treatment.

Dr. Suzanne L. Topalian, Associate Director of the Johns-Hopkins Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in Baltimore, said immunotherapies were still “new” and that scientists have yet to develop biomarkers that predict susceptibility to side effects.

Dr. Topalian says most of the side effects are manageable, but oncologists need to “become more educated on how to use these drugs.”

Immunotherapy is being used to treat some forms of aggressive cancer, such as peritoneal mesothelioma. Mesothelioma offers a poor prognosis to patients, with 55% of patients under 50 living one year. While rare, some patients do overcome the disease. Paul Kraus, who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, is the longest living mesothelioma survivor (more on his story on his site here).

Immune-based therapies have helped some patients with mesothelioma beat the odds. Some experts believe the cancer may have responded because asbestos, the cause of mesothelioma, also inflames the immune system.

The therapy has also helped some patients with small cell lung cancer. It is believed that immune-based therapy is effective for this form of cancer because it is a molecularly complex disease.

Four women with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer have also beaten the odds thanks to immunotherapy, the New York Times reports.

One of those women, from Portugal, fought cancer for four years before she finally convinced her doctor to give her an immunotherapy drug called nivolumab. Her tumors immediately began to shrink and continued shrinking with use of the drug. Now, her doctors say she has no trace of disease.

While scientists still don’t know with 100% certainty the reasoning for immunotherapy’s effectiveness, they do have a clue.

Dr. Eliezer M. Van Allen, a cancer researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told the New York Times that the results may have to do with a mutated gene in kidney cancer. The gene acted as a sort of master regulator of the other genes, controlling which ones were turned on and when. These regulated genes were normal and produced proteins that were not recognized as abnormal by the immune system.

The patients who responded to immune-based therapies appeared to have the master gene mutation.

While still strictly a hypothesis, this does give doctors a potential lead as to why these therapies work for some patients.

Pinpointing the right biomarkers will make it easier for doctors to test patients and determine whether they would benefit from immunotherapy.

While not a cure-all for all cancer patients, immune-based therapy may prove to be an effective treatment for some patients with the right biomarkers. Scientists are only now starting to explore this therapy, so there is still much to learn and explore in the immunotherapy world.

Immunotherapy treatments have been a boon to many cancer patients, but one Baltimore doctor warns of the potential side effects that some patients may experience.

Immune-based therapies are showing promising results for patients with mesothelioma and small cell lung cancer, but doctors say better predictive markers are needed to determine who would most benefit from this treatment.

Dr. Suzanne L. Topalian, Associate Director of the Johns-Hopkins Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in Baltimore, said immunotherapies were still “new” and that scientists have yet to develop biomarkers that predict susceptibility to side effects.

Dr. Topalian says most of the side effects are manageable, but oncologists need to “become more educated on how to use these drugs.”

Immunotherapy is being used to treat some forms of aggressive cancer, such as peritoneal mesothelioma. Mesothelioma offers a poor prognosis to patients, with 55% of patients under 50 living one year. While rare, some patients do overcome the disease. Paul Kraus, who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, is the longest living mesothelioma survivor (more on his story on his site here).

Immune-based therapies have helped some patients with mesothelioma beat the odds. Some experts believe the cancer may have responded because asbestos, the cause of mesothelioma, also inflames the immune system.

The therapy has also helped some patients with small cell lung cancer. It is believed that immune-based therapy is effective for this form of cancer because it is a molecularly complex disease.

Four women with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer have also beaten the odds thanks to immunotherapy, the New York Times reports.

One of those women, from Portugal, fought cancer for four years before she finally convinced her doctor to give her an immunotherapy drug called nivolumab. Her tumors immediately began to shrink and continued shrinking with use of the drug. Now, her doctors say she has no trace of disease.

While scientists still don’t know with 100% certainty the reasoning for immunotherapy’s effectiveness, they do have a clue.

Dr. Eliezer M. Van Allen, a cancer researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told the New York Times that the results may have to do with a mutated gene in kidney cancer. The gene acted as a sort of master regulator of the other genes, controlling which ones were turned on and when. These regulated genes were normal and produced proteins that were not recognized as abnormal by the immune system.

The patients who responded to immune-based therapies appeared to have the master gene mutation.

While still strictly a hypothesis, this does give doctors a potential lead as to why these therapies work for some patients.

Pinpointing the right biomarkers will make it easier for doctors to test patients and determine whether they would benefit from immunotherapy.

While not a cure-all for all cancer patients, immune-based therapy may prove to be an effective treatment for some patients with the right biomarkers. Scientists are only now starting to explore this therapy, so there is still much to learn and explore in the immunotherapy world.


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