Immunotherapy and Oral Cancer
You may have heard: Immunotherapy is proving to be very promising in the treatment of a variety of cancers, in particular lung cancer and advanced melanoma. However, immunotherapy has not found its way (yet!) into the treatment regimen for head and neck cancers.
What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is the process of enlisting the patient’s own immune system in the fight against cancer cells. Several drugs have been used successfully to aid in the treatment of advanced lung cancers and melanoma, giving patients a longer prognosis in many cases.
Cancer Cells are Tricky
Cancer cells are notoriously sneaky – their ability to hide from immune cells is one of the reasons that cancer is so hard to treat. This is where “checkpoint inhibitors”, one of the most common classes of immunotherapy drugs in cancer treatment, come in. These drugs help to block the activation of proteins that help cancer cells hide from immune cells.
The Connection with Oral Cancer
Recurring head and neck cancers are very difficult to treat. Often they are resistant to the best chemotherapy drugs, so the hope has always been that immunotherapy drugs may some day step in to assist with the oral pathology cancer fight. A recent trial in the UK has shown that the day may be coming sooner than we thought! The trial proved successful in extending prognosis for many of the patients.
Reduced Side Effects
The research also noted that side effects were reduced to give patients a better quality of life during treatment.
More Testing Needed
While more research is needed before the drugs receive FDA approval for the treatment of oral cancer, the good news is that because these drugs are already approved and on the market for other cancers, the application process for use in oral cancers will be quicker (and smoother) than it would be for a new drug.
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