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    Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer: Advances in Treatment

    Targeted Therapy

    These drugs target cancer cells based on certain types of genetic information and kill them without harming healthy ones around them.

    Doctors will take a sample of your tumor. Then they’ll see if the cancer cells will respond to one of these drugs. About 15% to 20% of people with NSCLC can get targeted therapy. If you’ve never smoked, the odds are better that it’ll work for you.

    People tend to do well with these medicines, which are tablets you take by mouth. “You don't have to come to the doctor's office every 2 to 3 weeks and get hooked into an IV,” Malik says.

    Side effects are milder than those that come with chemo. Skin rashes, nail changes, diarrhea, and fatigue are common.

    Doctors mainly use targeted therapy in people who have advanced (stage IV) NSCLC. It can help them live longer. Researchers are working to see if these treatments can also help people with early-stage NSCLC.

    Immunotherapy

    If your cancer is in a late stage, this new type of medicine can boost your immune system and help it fight cancer cells. The FDA has approved two immunotherapy drugs for lung cancer, including NSCLC. They are nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda). Others are in the works. 

    You get immunotherapy as a shot every 2 weeks at a doctor's office.

    Side effects are minimal, Ng says. Fatigue and achy joints are common. In rare cases, immunotherapy can cause inflammation in the lungs, liver, thyroid, pituitary gland, brain, or colon.

    “You're unleashing the immune system to go and attack the cancer,” says George R. Simon, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

    Sometimes it can turn on the body and attack something it isn’t supposed to.

    Scientists are studying other ways to use these types of treatments. People with early-stage cancer might get them before they have surgery. Others might take them together with chemotherapy.

    Imagine, Ng says -- you’d get chemo to fight the cancer at the same time you take drugs to strengthen your immune system.

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    Reviewed on May 31, 2016

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