Immunotherapy, the latest in advanced cancer treatments, makes use of the human body’s natural defences to fight the dreaded disease by giving patients artificially-grown immune system proteins that will improve immune cells’ abilities to target and attack cancer cells, without damaging healthy cells.
Also called biologic therapy, immunotherapy is praised one of the greatest medical advances in cancer treatment and research in the past 30 years. Unfortunately, not everyone can avail of it. Immunotherapy is not recommended for patients with autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune disorders happen when a patient’s own immune system attacks the body. These patients have not been included in clinical trials because doctors and scientists fear that immunotherapy might worsen their condition or cause new diseases to appear, precisely because the treatment uses the body’s immune system.
A new study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center says that a large number of lung cancer patients are not eligible for immunotherapy treatments.
The researchers, led by Saad Khan, studied government insurance data between 1991 and 2011 and national data from 1992 to 2009 to find the number of lung cancer patients in the U.S. who also had autoimmune diseases.
The team found that out of 210,509 lung cancer patients, 28,453 or some 14% had been hospitalized for an autoimmune disease. Close to 25% of the patients also had at least one insurance claim for autoimmune diseases.
These findings reveal that about one-fourth of patients with diagnosed lung cancer have autoimmune conditions, meaning an estimated 20 to 50 million patients in the U.S. will not be qualified for immunotherapy as it becomes the more widespread treatment choice.
The study states: “A considerable proportion of patients diagnosed with lung cancer may also have autoimmune disease. Although prior series have suggested that administering immune therapy to patients with autoimmune disease may be feasible, doing so conveys a risk of disease exacerbation and requires careful monitoring.”
The researchers have also said that the relatively high incidents of lung cancer patients with autoimmune diseases can be caused by diagnosis at a late age and a history of smoking, which have been known to increase the risks for autoimmune conditions. Alcoholism, stress and a sedentary lifestyle have also been documented factors contributing to autoimmune diseases.
The study was published in JAMA Oncology.