Texas doctors have been seeing an increase in head and throat cancers in recent years. One expects to see at least 3600 cases in the next year alone. But the good news: they now have a new tool to help fight that cancer.
The FDA began approving immunotherapy drugs such as Opdivo in November of 2016 for use against head and neck cancers. While there are several immunotherapy approaches, these drugs support the body's immune system by helping attack cancerous cells.
Dr. Thomas Harris at Texas Oncology in Waco said some cancers create cells with a protein barrier that prevent the immune system from attacking. Immunotherapy drugs help the immune system bypass those proteins so they can attack the cancerous cells.
Harris said chemotherapy is still the first choice against head and neck cancer but, if a patient needs additional treatments, immunotherapy can provide a better quality of life during recovery additional chemotherapy treatments.
"The results we see are many patients have better tolerance of their treatments, they have improved quality of life at home." Harris said. "Some patients have excellent outcomes and the majority of patients have improved outcomes over chemotherapy in some settings."