Immunotherapy and Lung Cancer

Cancer is one of the most unpredictable conditions and it can affect any organ in the human body. One of the more common forms (arguably the most common form) of cancer today is lung cancer. There are a few forms that lung cancer can take but they can all be divided into two categories. These are Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). Up to 85 percent of lung cancer cases are NSCLC and is known to afflict anyone regardless of smoking habits. SCLC on the only accounts for 20 percent of cases, it is rarely ever seen in non-smokers, and it is known to spread faster.

The Immune System 

Before looking at immunotherapy and lung cancer, it is important to have a high-level understanding of the immune system. In short, the immune system is a group of specialized cells, tissues and organs that provide defense against afflictions. This is generally done by maintaining a record of the normal internal environment and attacking any substance or cells that deviate from the usual.


Immunotherapy is a more recent approach to battling illnesses such as cancer. The idea is to foster the body’s ability to fight off the disease by using parts of the immune system. This can be achieved through stimulation of the immune system, which causes it to act in a smarter manner to attack foreign cells, or through assisting the immune system with elements such as man-made proteins or approved drugs to assist in the fight. It is important to note that immunotherapy can be used to fight illnesses in general or to target cancer. For this piece, the focus is on the cancer fighting variation.

Lung Cancer and Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy for lung cancer is more widely being accepted as results continue to get more favorable. Even patients with advanced stages of lung cancer are showing positive responses such as tumor shrinkage when this method of treatment is administered. In a study conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) on advanced stage NSCLC patients, when compared to patients that received solely chemotherapy, patients that received immunotherapy using a drug known as Pembrolizumab showed up to an eight-month increase on average in survival time.

While this is good news, it is important to highlight that the use of immunotherapy for lung cancer doesn’t show the same results across the board. Currently, immunotherapy is only approved for most forms of NSCLC and some forms do not respond as well to it as others.

If you think immunotherapy is right for you, discuss your options with your doctor.