Many types of cancer, including lung cancer, are treated with immunotherapy. Its purpose is straightforward: to let your immune system spot and destroy cancer cells.1

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, for example, assault lung cancer cells using tools that risk damaging both diseased and healthy cells. Immunotherapy for lung cancer, on the other hand, aids your body’s natural defenses in fighting cancer, which means it has the potential to be a more successful treatment choice.

Patients with lung cancer commonly visit health practitioners asking whether this new medication is the “magic pill” they’ve read about or heard about, and if it would work for them. Immunotherapy for lung cancer has been proven to work in certain patients, but it does not work for everyone.

This is due to the fact that lung tumors differ from person to person. The best therapy for a patient is determined by the kind, stage, molecular features, and aggressiveness of the lung cancer, as well as if the illness has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.

What is immunotherapy for lung cancer?

Cancer sufferers often believe that cancer cells are almost indestructible and difficult to combat. Cancer cells are similar to regular cells, with the exception that they have alterations that permits them to divide quickly. These alterations imply that cancer cells, like any other entity that shouldn’t be in our bodies (virus, toxins, bacteria, etc.) , can be recognized by the body’s immune system. But cancer cells also have the ability to trick the immune system.2

Consider the immune system as a police force that patrols your body 24 hours a day, seven days a week, searching for issues. Infections and pathogens are often detected, and the immune system produces antibodies or summons other proteins or cells, such as T-cells (T lymphocytes), to destroy the foreign material.

1 Pavan, A., Attili, I., Pasello, G., Guarneri1, V., Conte, P. F., & Bonanno, L. (2019). Immunotherapy in small-cell lung cancer: from molecular promises to clinical challenges. JITC Biomedcentral. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

2 C. Naylor, K. Desani, & K. Chung. (2007). Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer. Surg Oncol Clin N Am. 2016 Jul;25(3):601-9. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

Lung cancer cells have the potential to masquerade themselves as normal lung cells since they are the body’s own cells that have mutated. It’s as if they had an ID badge that they show when they run into these immune cell cops (which occurs all the time) to verify they’re a healthy component of your body. The immune cell verifies the ID and lets the cancer cell go unnoticed, in the same way a fugitive with a fake ID would evade a policeman at a road checkpoint.

In other words, the cancer cells express the right proteins so that the immune system doesn’t recognize the problem and ignores them.

This is where immune medicines known as checkpoint inhibitors come in.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors

The interaction between the cancer cell and the T-cell occurs via checkpoint proteins (for example PD-1 and PD-L1), much as if they were driving down the street and a cop stopped them from making sure they were allowed to pass the road checkpoint.

Cancer cells easily present their fake badges to the immune system and avoid being detected. Immune checkpoint inhibitors interfere with that interaction. They assist your immune system in recognizing that the cancer cell is not a normal lung cell and must be destroyed. This sets off an immunological reaction in which the body targets and kills cancer cells.

Checkpoint inhibitors can be used to treat lung cancer. Some examples are:

  • Pembrolizumab
  • Nivolumab
  • Atezolizumab
  • Durvalumab

Benefits of immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer patients

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer cells. It has shown promise in the treatment of lung cancer, particularly in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Here are some potential advantages of immunotherapy for lung cancer patients:

1. Targeted therapy: Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which attacks all rapidly dividing cells, immunotherapy is targeted to specific proteins or markers on cancer cells. This may result in fewer side effects and better outcomes.

2. Long-lasting response: Some patients who respond to immunotherapy experience a long-lasting response to treatment, with cancer remaining in remission for an extended period of time.

3. Improved quality of life: Immunotherapy may be administered as an outpatient treatment, which may allow patients to continue their daily activities with less disruption.

4. Combination therapy: Immunotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, which may improve overall response rates and survival outcomes.3

Side effects of immunotherapy for lung cancer

Most individuals who get Immunotherapy for lung cancer report side effects, some of which may be connected with an overactive immune system. This might be a side effect of employing immunotherapies.

The following are the most frequent adverse effects that people report while undergoing treatment:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Inflammation in the lungs and/or liver

When patients develop adverse effects, the treating physician can discontinue treatment, and assess if they can withstand additional immunotherapy treatment.4

3 Free to Breathe. (2017, July). Immunotherapy for the treatment of lung cancer – Medschool. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

4 Steven A, Fisher SA, Robinson BW. (2016). Immunotherapy for lung cancer. Respirology. 2016 Jul;21(5):821-33. doi: 10.1111/resp.12789. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

Wrapping It Up

Since its approval and first deployment, Immunotherapies have transformed oncology and the treatment of lung cancer. Immune medicines often have fewer side effects than other traditional therapy choices, allowing patients to have a higher quality of life.

Ongoing developments in Immunotherapy for lung cancer, such as the utilization of immune medication combinations, give us optimism that one day, this approach will enable the majority of advanced-stage lung cancer patients to not just survive but flourish.


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