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Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

When the human genome was mapped in 2003, immunotherapy became a possibility. Our researchers turned that dream into real hope. As thought leaders in this groundbreaking cancer treatment, we include the latest immunotherapy discoveries in our treatment plans. Our hope is that more and more patients will benefit.

What Is Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer?

Immunotherapy uses medications to stimulate your immune system to kill lung cancer cells. The drugs boost, direct or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. Immunotherapy is also called biotherapy or biologic immunotherapy.

For both non-small cell and small cell lung cancer, these medications include:

  • Atezolizumab
  • Durvalumab
  • Ipilimumab
  • Nivolumab
  • Pembrolizumab

Read more about immunotherapy at the Abramson Cancer Center

Immunotherapy at the Abramson Cancer Center: What to Expect

We have many tools to use against lung cancer. We determine the best therapies for you based on a physical exam, biopsies and imaging tests.

After biopsy, pulmonary pathologists read and interpret the results of tests performed on the cancer's cells. As the only hospital in the Philadelphia with multiple pulmonary pathologists, we can provide unusually robust lung cancer diagnoses. These details allow us to create more effective treatment plans.

Planning Treatment Using PDL1 Tests and Liquid Biopsies

Liquid biopsy, or analysis of circulating tumor DNA, is an innovative blood test we developed to better understand tumor DNA. It shows if a tumor has any specific genetic mutations that we can treat (molecular targets).

You should know the results of your liquid biopsy in about a week. If you have molecular targets, we can treat you with targeted therapy. Targeted therapy involves pills you take at home that stop the cancer’s growth. Up to 30 percent of lung cancer patients have a tumor that can be treated with targeted therapy.

If you don't have a target, we perform a PDL1 test. This test tells us if the cancer cells have a large amount of PDL1, a protein that stops immune cells from attacking them.

A high PDL1 reading in your tumor means you are eligible for immunotherapy by itself. If PDL1 levels are lower or the cancer is fast growing, you typically receive immunotherapy and chemotherapy together.

Why Choose the Abramson Cancer Center for Immunotherapy

Our researchers have been active participants in the design, performance and interpretation of several pivotal immunotherapy clinical trials. These research studies led to the FDA approval and widespread use of immunotherapy.

Our scientists in the Penn Institute for Immunology (IFI) work hand-in-hand with our lung cancer specialists to push limits of what's possible. Ongoing immunotherapy clinical trials seek to expand the number of patients who respond to this remarkable treatment. We offer our patients the opportunity to participate in these studies.

You also benefit from:

  • Safer treatments: As a matrix cancer center, the Abramson Cancer Center does not have a single location. Instead, our cancer specialists are embedded throughout Penn. This enables us to work seamlessly with experts in neurosurgery, surgery, dermatology, cardiology, rheumatology and neurology to better manage immunotherapy side effects. Read more about urgent care for lung cancer treatment side effects.
  • Experienced lung cancer team: Immunotherapy is one of the newest frontiers in cancer care. That means questions come up that don't yet have clear answers. Some of our experts are members of national committees formulating immunotherapy guidelines for the U.S. In addition, we see a lot of lung cancer patients every year. We use this extraordinary amount of knowledge to help you make the best decisions about your care.
  • Lung cancer specialization: Our medical oncology team includes many lung cancer specialists. These doctors live and breathe this disease, so you can feel confident that we've considered every option for your care.
  • Team-based decision-making: Our lung cancer specialists meet regularly to discuss patient cases and plan care. Together, they discuss the pros and cons of each immunotherapy drug in the context of a patient's diagnosis, personal health and other factor. These conversations help them pick the most effective treatment courses.

Lung Cancer Vaccine Therapy

Vaccine therapy is a type of immunotherapy. It trains your immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. Our researchers are studying a personalized vaccine for lung cancer. It is developed by identifying abnormal proteins in the tumor.

A lung cancer vaccine could also be used in combination with other drugs to make them more effective. Learn more about vaccine therapy and other active lung cancer clinical trials.