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For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.
An important part of the immune system is its ability to keep itself from attacking normal cells in the body. To do this, it uses “checkpoints” or proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response. Cancer cells sometimes use checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. But drugs that target these checkpoints can be used to treat some people with small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
These drugs are given as an intravenous (IV) infusion, typically every 2, 3 or 4 weeks.
Other, more serious side effects occur less often.
Infusion reactions: Some people might have an infusion reaction while getting these drugs. This is like an allergic reaction, and can include fever, chills, flushing of the face, rash, itchy skin, feeling dizzy, wheezing, and trouble breathing. It’s important to tell your doctor or nurse right away if you have any of these symptoms while getting these drugs.
Autoimmune reactions: These drugs remove one of the safeguards on the body's immune system. Sometimes the immune system responds by attacking other parts of the body, which can cause serious or even life-threatening problems in the lungs, intestines, liver, hormone-making glands, kidneys, or other organs.
It’s very important to report any new side effects to someone on your health care team as soon as possible. If serious side effects do occur, treatment may need to be stopped and you might be given high doses of corticosteroids to suppress your immune system.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Health Professional Version. Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq on June 12, 2019.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Small Cell Lung Cancer. V.1.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/sclc.pdf on June 12, 2019.
Ott PA, Elez E, Hiret S, Kim DW, Morosky A, Saraf S et al. Pembrolizumab in Patients With Extensive-Stage Small-Cell Lung Cancer: Results From the Phase Ib KEYNOTE-028 Study. J Clin Oncol. 2017 Dec 1;35(34):3823-3829.
Paz-Ares L, Dvorkin M, Chen Y, Reinmuth N, Hotta K, Trukhin D, et al. Durvalumab plus platinum-etoposide versus platinum-etoposide in first-line treatment of extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer (CASPIAN): a randomised, controlled, open-label, phase 3 trial. Lancet. 2019;394(10212):1929-1939. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32222-6. Epub 2019 Oct 4.
Last Revised: March 3, 2021
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