Immunotherapy , when used for cancer treatment, could extend life longer finds studies. Experts have explained that until now, they were reserved for the last resort for most patients and treatment, usually comprised of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

In a pair of clinical trials, researchers have found that using immunotherapy as first-line treatment can extend lives of these cancer patients. Immunotherapies work by altering or reprogramming the immune systems of the body so that it recognizes the cancer cells and attacks and kills the tumor cells.

Usually, patients are offered immunotherapies when aggressive chemotherapies have failed. These trials have shown that in treatment-resistant cancers, use of immunotherapy from the start not only increased survival but also had fewer side effects.

More studies are probably needed before these experimental treatments were made to mainstay in cancer patients . However, the risk-benefit analysis might help decide the best options for these patients. These findings were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress in Berlin.

A study was conducted by the Institute of Cancer Research and Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. This study looked at the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab in around 900 patients suffering from advanced head and neck cancers. In most of these patients, the disease was treatment resistant and advanced.

Results showed that pembrolizumab increased life expectancy by 40% compared to regular chemotherapy. Median life expectancy was around 15 months with immunotherapy compared with chemotherapy (11 months). Further 17% of those on immunotherapy experienced side effects compared to 69% on extreme chemotherapy.

Researchers from the University of Southern California explained that in 4% colorectal cancer patients the tumors carry a mutation that can affect DNA repair and these patients survive between 14-19 months on an average after treatment. The average survival for other types of colorectal cancers is around 25 months.


Immunotherapy agent nivolumab use showed that in 84% of patients there was at least some shrinkage of the tumors. At the end of 12 months after this therapy, 77% were alive with no progression in their tumors.

According to Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, these studies show that immunotherapy agents could have the potential to be "smarter, kinder and more effective first-line treatment ".

I have added, "We need these things to ensure more patients to get  these drugs to work in a higher proportion of patients and to have an agreement over the cost of these drugs to make them more affordable for the NHS."