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Researchers constantly develop new and better ways to treat lung cancer. Immunotherapy is a newer area of study that’s proven to be very effective. It works by boosting your body’s ability to fight off lung cancer.
At UCLA Health, you’ll receive treatment from leaders in the field of immunotherapy and precision medicine, which focuses on each tumor’s specific genetic or molecular factors. Our researchers and physicians play an important role in the development, testing and approval of immunotherapy drugs for lung cancer. We understand how to target lung cancer cells to provide the most effective and personalized cancer treatment possible.
Learn more about the Institute for Precision Health at UCLA Health.
What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is medicine that prompts your body’s immune system to fight cancer. Your immune system normally protects you from harmful bacteria and diseases. If your immune system doesn’t recognize or attack cancer cells, immunotherapy helps to activate this system.
Immunotherapy is delivered by infusion (IV) into your veins. Patients typically get infusions every few weeks. How long you continue getting treatment may depend on how your body reacts to the medication.
Immunotherapy for lung cancer at UCLA Health: our approach
We test every diagnosed lung cancer for signs (biomarkers) that immunotherapy will work. If you’re a candidate for immunotherapy, your lung cancer team may recommend immunotherapy alone or together with other lung cancer treatments.
Immunotherapy for lung cancer: the UCLA Health advantage
At UCLA Health, you’ll find:
Access to the newest therapies: Researchers use clinical trials to study promising immunotherapy drugs. Along with approved treatments, your care team will offer the chance to participate in clinical trials whenever appropriate.
Experienced lung cancer team: Our physicians have treated lung cancer with immunotherapy since it first became available. We understand how and when to use immunotherapy effectively as part of a complete treatment plan.
Skilled infusion nurses: Our medical oncologists work with certified infusion nurses, experts at administering cancer medication. Our nurses carry out your treatment plan and talk to your physicians to make adjustments if needed.
Excellence in lung cancer research: The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognizes UCLA as a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer. We have in-depth knowledge of immunotherapy thanks to our research in new lung cancer treatments and therapies.
Types of immunotherapy for lung cancer
Many types of immunotherapies may work for lung cancer. While only some immunotherapy drugs are FDA-approved, researchers study others that may be available through lung cancer clinical trials. Types of immunotherapy include:
Immune checkpoint inhibitors
The immune system uses checkpoints (molecules found on certain immune cells) to identify which cells are normal and which cells should be attacked. Sometimes cancer cells “trick” these checkpoints by appearing normal. Immunotherapy blocks their ability to appear normal, so the immune system knows to attack those cancer cells.
There are several FDA-approved immunotherapy drugs that treat lung cancer. They target the PD-L1 protein found on cancer cells, which helps “trick” immune checkpoints. If your testing shows a high PD-L1 level, you may be a candidate for immunotherapy treatment.
The vaccines used for cancer aren’t for prevention, but instead treat existing cancer. They make your immune system better at destroying cancer by targeting proteins found in cancer cells. Researchers are still studying vaccines for treating lung cancer, and you can only get these vaccines through clinical trials.
Adoptive cellular therapy
This type of immunotherapy involves removing cells from your body, reprogramming them to attack cancer cells and then putting them back into your body. Researchers are still investigating the use of adoptive cellular therapy for lung cancer, so you can only try cellular therapy through clinical trials.
Managing immunotherapy side effects
Everyone responds to cancer treatment differently. Some people may not experience any side effects with immunotherapy, while others may have a more severe reaction. Side effects of immunotherapy may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle and bone pain
- Shortness of breath
If you experience side effects from immunotherapy, the Simms/Mann Center for Integrative Oncology offers support programs to help you manage those symptoms. We strive to keep you comfortable throughout your treatment.