New Immunotherapy Treatment Covers a Range of Cancer Indications

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Immunotherapy medication offers more treatment options for more cancers.

Worldwide cancer is the second leading cause of death with around one in six deaths due to cancer. In 2018, approximately 9.6 million people died due to cancer. In South Africa, the burden of cancer continues to grow with cancer (neoplasm) ranked as the second leading cause of death in South Africa in 2017, with 9.7% of deaths a result of cancer.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, cancer patients, their families, and their caregivers have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Firstly, cancer patients are more likely to be infected than the general population and are at a higher risk of dying because of the disease. Secondly, cancer patients not getting treatment at all are risking their lives. There is a concern that people living with cancer may not be getting tested and screened as much during the pandemic.

Preventing cancer

Worldwide, roughly one-third of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use. These are risks that can be easily modified or changed in order to possibly prevent cancer. By avoiding or modifying these risk factors including exposure to too much UV radiation and sexually transmitted HPV infections, nearly 30-50% of cancers can be prevented, helping to ease the burden of cancer and saving many lives.

Treating cancer using immunotherapy

There are different ways to treat cancer and the treatment offered will depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Immunotherapy is one method to treat cancer and it uses a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This is done in a few ways:

  • Stimulating/boosting the natural defenses of the immune system to work harder and smarter to find and attack cancer cells.
  • Making substances in a lab that are similar to immune system components and using them to help restore an immune system or improve how the immune system works, to find and attack cancer cells.

Immunotherapy can work better for certain types of cancer and is often used alongside other treatments such as surgery. MSD is proud to launch an immunotherapy medication with indications expanded to cover six different indications. This can improve the treatment options for cancer patients and enhance the arsenal of cancer responses.

The immunotherapy medication from MSD can now be used in the treatment of up to six different cancers, namely:

  • Melanoma- the most serious type of skin cancer that develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer- disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the lung. Smoking is a risk factor for non-small lung cancer.
  • Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma- a cancer that develops in the outer layer of skin and in the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat.
  • Classical Hodgkin lymphoma- cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. Cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and can even spread beyond the lymphatic system.
  • Urothelial carcinoma, including bladder cancer- this cancer occurs when cells that make up the urinary bladder start to grow out of control.
  • Renal cell carcinoma- also known as kidney cancer and the most common type of kidney cancer in adults.

As the second leading cause of death worldwide and in South Africa, cancer is a disease that cannot be forgotten in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. World Cancer Day is commemorated on 4th February every year, to highlight the continued need to focus on cancer, including screening, diagnosis, and treatment. The ESMO Africa Virtual Summit is another event that seeks to bring breakthroughs in cancer treatment and detection to the attention of doctors and the public alike.

The new indications can significantly impact how we treat cancer, and MSD is dedicated to continuously researching new methods to treat cancer. Speak to your doctor today about your screening for cancer or the possible benefits of immunotherapy treatment today.

How it works:

The immune system releases certain types of cells called T-Cells that are used by the body to detect and fight infections and diseases such as cancer. Cancer cells may use the programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) pathway to hide from these T-Cells, allowing cancer cells to grow and spread. The MSD immunotherapy medication blocks this PD-1 pathway to help prevent cancer cells from hiding, allowing T-cells to detect and attack cancer cells.

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