Cancer drug results excite health community

Nivolumab offers lung cancer patients hope

Cancer drug results excite health...

LA CROSSE, Wis. - A cancer drug is offering patients with lung cancer new hope.

Currently, only about 5 percent of those with advanced non-small cell lung cancer survive longer than five years. A small study, however, is showing promising new results for extending patients' lifespans.

Dr. Kurt Oettel, chairman of Gundersen Health System's Board of Oncology, is excited about the long-term results of a clinical study for the immunotherapy drug nivolumab, marketed under the name Opdivo.

"Basically, it's telling the immune system to recognize cancer and let immune system kill the cancer as opposed to the drug killing the cancer,” he said.

Of 129 advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients taking Opdivo in the trial, 16 percent lived past the five-year mark.

"In a disease where the average survival is 10 months, that's a big finding,” Oettel said.

Oettel said the results are preliminary and there's still a lot of work to do in figuring out which patients the drug will benefit, but the study is providing a healthy dose of hope.

"This is really exciting, because these are options we can give patients that we know in some cases patients are going to live much longer than they ever would and their quality of life is really quite good,” he said.

Monica Holman, co-founder Living for Liz, an organization raising awareness and funds for lung cancer research, is excited about the drug’s possibilities.

"Having a drug that is able to come out with those kind of results is amazing,” she said. “It creates such hope for patients, caregivers and providers."

Holman’s daughter, Liz, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011 and died in 2012. Since then, the organization has raised close to $100,000 for local lung cancer research, awareness and patient assistance programs.

Holman said the organization is preparing for this year’s Lizfest, which will take place in August. To find out more, you can click here.

Opdivo, or nivolumbab, is used treatment of other kinds of cancers besides just lung cancer, and Oettel believes it’s only a matter of time before we see similar results in other cancers as well.

Oettel said while the results of the study are exciting, it's important to keep in mind these drugs can be very expensive for patients.

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