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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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March 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 1)

Immunotherapy a cancer game changer? Curb the enthusiasm
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Immunotherapy a cancer game changer? Curb the enthusiasm image

Immunotherapy, the new cancer treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune system, has once again been described as a ‘game-changer’ after a new study has found it helped people with head and neck cancers live longer. But while anything is better than chemotherapy, it’s not quite the magic bullet that drug companies are claiming.

For one, those given the immunotherapy drug nivolumab did live longer than others who had chemotherapy—but only by a few months. In the new study involving 350 patients with head and neck cancer, 36 per cent of the immunotherapy patients were still alive a year later, which also means that 64 per cent weren’t helped by the drug, compared to 17 per cent of patients given chemotherapy.

The results were slightly better among patients who were also HPV-positive; they lived an average of nine months, which was slightly more than double the survival time with chemotherapy, say researchers from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

While any extension of life is welcome, does it make immunotherapy a game changer? An analysis of the new therapy in September’s What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine ( discovered that drug company profits were as much to do with the zeal surrounding immunotherapy as any benefit to the patient. Bad news was also being swept under the carpet by the drug company and regulators; one immunotherapy drug had been responsible for five deaths—which was 25 per cent of those given the treatment—and two further deaths in 2014.


(Source: proceedings of the European Cancer Congress, October 9, 2016)

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