While any diagnosis of cancer is scary lung cancer is particularly intimidating. According to the Mayo Clinic, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States among both men and women. It leads to more cancer deaths than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancer combined.

According to Dr. Tarek Sabagh of Dayton Physicians Network, this is because lung cancer patients tend to be diagnosed when the cancer is at a more advanced stage. The later that cancer is detected the less likely it is that treatments like chemotherapy will be beneficial.

However, the use of immunotherapy at Dayton Physicians is giving lung cancer patients in the Miami Valley a more effective option.

Sabagh says cancer in the body is similar to a weed in a garden.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

•A new cough that doesn’t go away
• Coughing up blood, even a small amount
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Hoarseness
• Losing weight without trying
• Bone pain
• Headache

Source: Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org

“(When) you have weeds in your garden you get the weed killer and you spray the weed. And that’s the chemotherapy. You spray, you get something to kill the cancer cell and as you do that you have side effects on the normal cells also in the body … sort of like when you spray the weed you’re going to have some of the flowers in the flower bed get some of that,” he says. “Another way to kill the weed is you get something to strengthen the soil so it doesn’t allow the weed to grow. … It’s the same thing with the immune system—you give something to revive the body so it doesn’t allow the cancer cells to grow.”

Sabagh says that everyone produces cancer cells and normally each person’s immune system detects the faulty cells and gets rid of them. In someone diagnosed with cancer, though, the body fails to detect the cells allowing them to grow and become a tumor. Immunotherapy encourages the immune system to detect and fight cancer on its own.

“There’s a switch in the human system that when it’s turned on the immune system is active and fighting the cancer cell; when it is off then the cancer cell can go undetected. So the immunotherapy what it does is it looks at those switches that might have been turned off by the cancer cell and tries to revive it again,” says Sabagh.

Immunotherapy has been used with many different cancers, but it has proven to be particularly beneficial for lung cancers patients since they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage when chemotherapy is less effective.

According to Sabagh, immunotherapy has shown positive results with patients in clinical trials that had first been treated with chemotherapy before trying immunotherapy. “At 12 months about 51 percent of the patients were still alive after immunotherapy as compared to 39 percent of the chemotherapy. Of those who had immunotherapy 42 percent responded to treatment as compared to 24 percent to chemotherapy,” he says.

In later trials, immunotherapy was used in conjunction with chemotherapy when patients were first diagnosed. “About 55 percent was the response rate compared to 29 percent on the chemo only,” he says.


Based on the success of these trials, Sabagh and Dayton Physicians Network have been using the treatment in the Dayton region and are also implementing their own trials.

In these trials, Dayton Physicians Network is hoping to continue to improve the therapy. For example, multiple switches may cause the immune system to not detect a cancer cell. Sabagh says that the trials are testing whether multiple drugs at the same time can address multiple triggers, thus improving the immune system’s ability to detect and fight.

To learn more about immunotherapy, visit daytonphysicians.com. To learn more about Dayton Physicians Network’s ongoing clinical trials, visit daytonphysicians.com/research-and-clinical-trials/.


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