New Treatments for Lung Cancer

Harnessing the body’s immune system to help destroy lung cancer cells is the goal of new therapies being developed at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women, causing more deaths every year than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined, according to the Cancer Research Institute. Cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly 80 percent of lung cancers.

Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center is among the institutions working to develop new treatments to fight this disease, including participating in clinical trials for a new class of therapeutics called immunotherapies or immuno-oncology drugs. Immunotherapies are designed to help the body’s immune system work better to destroy cancer cells that can hide from traditional drug treatments.

Tirrell Johnson, MD, and Jennifer Tseng, MD, have extensive experience in the use of immunotherapy. The physicians at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center have completed multiple clinical trials for immunotherapy drugs, including studies to expand the use of immunotherapies in rarer types of tumors and in combination with radiation therapy.

“We are especially interested in seeing how immunotherapies can be combined with chemotherapy to reduce the recurrence of lung cancer in patients following surgery,” said Dr. Tseng.

“Unfortunately, lung cancer has a very high recurrence rate, but we are beginning to see that the use of immunotherapies combined with chemotherapy are prolonging the lives of patients.”

Recently, several new drugs were approved to treat non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up about 85 percent of all lung cancer cases.

Some types of cancer cells produce a protein that deactivates the body’s cancer-killing T cells. New drugs such as Opdivo® work by overriding the cancer cells’ defense process, activating the immune system to do its job.

Yet other new drugs utilize antibodies, generated in the lab, to target specific proteins found on cancer cells to enhance the immune system’s ability to kill these cells while sparing normal cells. Another class of drugs treats specific mutations that occur in patients who have no smoking history, accounting for about 15 percent of non-small lung cancers.

For information about lung cancer treatment or clinical trials, contact Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center at 321.841.1869.