For many doctors immunotherapy represents the future of cancer treatment. Cancers often grow and spread because the body’s immune system fails to detect them. This is where immunotherapy comes in. Simply put Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancerous tumors. Once the immune system is stimulated by the therapy it will detect and attack the tumors and hopefully remove all of the cancerous cells.

Despite immunotherapy’s great potential for treating cancer developments in the field have been relatively slow. In part this is due to the unimaginable complexity of our immune system and the challenges in understanding how to manipulate it so that it will attack specific cells. Earlier this month, however, immunotherapy received a major advancement with the publishing of a study that showed an immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, combined with chemotherapy, significantly extended the lives of lung cancer patients. The results from the study showed that almost 70% of those taking Keytruda were alive after 12 months compared to 49% among the group only receiving chemotherapy. The results of this study suggest that Keytruda is not only more effective than chemotherapy, but that it is also more effective than other immunotherapy drugs.

Keytruda has also been shown to be more effective for former smokers and those who developed their cancer through workplace exposures. The way Keytruda works is by disrupting what is known as the PD-1 and PD-L1 pathway. PD-1 and PD-L1 are both proteins that once attached signal to the immune system not to attack the cell. By shutting down this pathway the immune system’s T cells are able to detect the cancer and attack it. Significantly, research has shown, there are more PD-1 and PD-L1 proteins on tumors with higher mutational loads, which are typically cancers caused by carcinogens (like cigarettes and many of the substances railroad workers were exposed to). Cancers that are closely associated with having higher mutational loads include melanoma, lung, bladder, and head and neck cancers.

While Keytruda may not work for all cancers, nor may it be a permanent solution for all patients, it still represents a major milestone in understanding how cancer works and how future treatments should and will be developed.

Only your doctor can determine whether Keytruda may be right for you. Be sure to discuss all of your occupational exposures with your doctor to help him or her obtain a proper diagnosis and develop the correct treatment plan for you.

If you or a loved one are a current or former railroad worker diagnosed with cancer, please contact us today to discuss your legal rights.