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Immunotherapy Being Studied As Possible Lung Cancer Treatment

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Claud Lape's symptoms of lung cancer came about because it had spread.

"I was having pain in my hip and lower back," he said.

His father and three sisters died of lung cancer. Claud feared getting the same treatments, particularly surgery.

"It was inoperable. They couldn't operate on it. I really didn't want to get operated on," says Claud.

But, he understood his prognosis was grim.

"I have two young children, and wife. Thought about dying," he says.

His doctor presented an alternative - Claud could participate in a study looking at whether immunotherapy would be helpful for the most common type of lung cancer - non-small cell lung cancer.

"He said if I was in your situation, this is exactly what I would do," says Claud about his conversation with his doctor. "I figured, it couldn't hurt. I was hoping for the best, expecting the worst."

Cancer can switch off the immune system. Reversing this switch off is the goal of immunotherapy.

"The immune therapy doesn't kill cells on the basis of their cell division rate, or any of the characteristics that we traditionally think of with chemo," says Allegheny General Hospital Cancer Specialist Dr. Gene Finley. "These drugs then reinvigorate the immune response to help fight the cancer."

The Allegheny Health Network participated in a study funded by the drug makers. It compared the standard combination of chemotherapy, plus a tumor-starving medicine called Avastin against chemo, Avastin, and immunotherapy for people with non-small cell lung cancer.

The group getting all three drugs has been getting good results.

"Improves the response rate, and improves the time to progression, and it's looking like it improves the overall survival," Dr. Finley says.

If studies continue to go well, this could eventually become an approved treatment.

"We don't have long enough data to say anyone has been cured," Dr. Finley says. "We've had some notable cases where the disease has been in a remission for quite some time."

Claud has completed chemotherapy and radiation. Now, every three weeks, he gets immunotherapy through an IV line that stays in place.

"As long as the treatments keep working, I will continue to do 'em. I don't talk about what's ahead. Because I don't know if we know what's going to be ahead," Claud says. "I knew from previous experiences with my family, I didn't think that, you know, three years later, almost three years later, I'd still be here. For up and coming generations, I hope that they can cure it. It would be an amazing thing."

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