I recently returned from the largest cancer conference in the world.

It is an annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology held in Chicago. Almost 33,000 cancer specialists from more than 125 countries attended the meeting.

There were lots of advances presented, but due to lack of space, I’m writing about a single key one today. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.Until now, stage 4 or metastatic lung cancer was a death sentence. Now, new advances in immunotherapy are reversing this.

I have a patient who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (NSCLC or non-small cell lung cancer). His cancer was diagnosed four years ago.

He was initially given chemotherapy, but his cancer eventually progressed after initial response.

He was then started on immunotherapy. He comes once a month to my office for immunotherapy. His quality of life now is very good and he is very active.

The research was presented in a plenary session of the ASCO conference. The study is summarized:

After five years, newly diagnosed patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) demonstrated an overall survival (OS) rate of 23.2 percent from treatment with pembrolizumab

(Keytruda) and previously treated patients had an OS rate of 15.5 percent, according to long-term results from the KEYNOTE-001 trial.

These findings compared favorably to historical, pre-immunotherapy OS rates of about 5%.

The trial enrolled 550 patients with confirmed locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC in the lung cancer cohort and treated them with Keytruda or pembrolizumab.

Overall five-year survival was 16%, but those who were high expressers of PDL-1 (this comprised almost one-third of the patients) had a 30% chance of five-year survival. Some of these patients had no demonstrable cancer.

My patient is doing well four years since diagnosis and his cancer is in remission. It is very possible that he may be cured!

This was almost unimaginable just a few years ago. I agree that 30% or 3 out of 10 patients is a small number, but still, this is a good advance compared to where we were.

There were lots of such advances presented in the meeting. I will report more as space permits. At the same time, if you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, do not lose all hope. Advances are happening and things are changing fast.

Dr. Sunil Gandhi is a hematologist and oncologist. He is the volunteer medical adviser of the Citrus Unit of American Cancer Society. Write to 521 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, email sgandhi@tampabay.rr.com or call 352-746-0707.

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