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General Discussions

Immunotherapy-Transforming Cancer Care, Offering Patients New Hope

By Mike Hennessy
Mike Hennessy

OncLive Chairman,
Mike Hennessy

It’s really no surprise that the buzz at the major oncology meetings these days centers on how immunotherapy is being deployed in the treatment of many hard-to-treat cancers—moving far beyond the melanoma setting where the approach has already proven so successful.

Following on the FDA’s approval of nivolumab to treat the squamous form of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), more approvals are being pursued for immunotherapeutic agents to treat all subtypes of NSCLC buoyed by impressive clinical trial results. Additionally, at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, findings from multiple clinical trials suggest that immunotherapies are gaining ground in renal cell carcinoma, pancreatic and liver cancer, glioblastoma, in the head and neck setting, and for hematologic malignancies, among others. And, importantly, researchers are beginning to discover how mutations, biomarkers, and an individual’s cancer cell DNA can help to identify which patients are most likely to respond to these new agents.

As exciting as these findings are, immunotherapy represents a whole new way of treating patients with cancer. This therapeutic approach presents a very different profile—and trajectory—of side effects, because unlike traditional chemotherapy agents, these immune-related adverse events may occur weeks and even months after treatment has begun. In the words of Marianne Davies, a thoracic nurse practitioner who has worked extensively with immunotherapies in the clinic, “patient education is incredibly important.”

Who better than the oncology nurse to be front and center in that effort?

In this month’s cover story, Davies and other experts offer insights on how you can help your patients understand the type of side effects to expect if they are candidates for immunotherapy, and they all stress that careful monitoring and early reporting of symptoms—no matter how small—is essential for patients to continue their treatment and reap the most benefit.

Also in this issue, we hear from an oncology nurse who tragically lost her husband to prostate cancer at a young age yet is determined to use that experience to raise awareness of how BRCA mutations can be complicit in prostate cancer, especially in younger men with more aggressive tumors.

Technology continues to spread its tenets into practically every aspect of healthcare, and increasingly, patients are using web-based portals to see their test results, access information about their disease, and otherwise communicate electronically with their healthcare team. We talked with several experts about how these patient portals are working in practice, and the consensus seems to be that for the most part, oncology patients like them.

The field of cancer care is ever changing, and our goal is to bring you expert insights on these developments through the pages of this journal and our website Let us know what you’d like to learn more about, and as always, thank you for reading.

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