Immunotherapy Drug Opdivo Doubles Overall Life Expectancy in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Immunotherapy Drug Opdivo Doubles Overall Life Expectancy in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Immunotherapy Drug Opdivo Doubles Overall Life Expectancy in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center found that Opdivo, an immunotherapy drug containing Nivolumab, can double the overall life expectancy of patients with rapidly progressing and treatment-resistant head and neck tumors. The drug was particularly effective in treating squamous cell cancers of the mouth and soft palate, pharynx, larynx, paranasal sinuses, and salivary glands. It significantly improved patients' quality of life with minimal side effects.

Exciting New Standard Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

The study’s findings, halted early due to the positive results, were presented at the 2016 American Cancer Society annual meeting in Chicago. The American Cancer Research Association announced the subheading of the results earlier that year, calling the findings an exciting new standard treatment option for head and neck cancer patients with no other treatment options.

Study Details and Positive Results

The study involved 361 patients with stage 4 metastatic or recurrent squamous cell head and neck cancer, with worsening disease courses, rapid spreading, and failing to respond to platinum-based chemotherapy. While some patients received nivolumab until their tumors progressed, others received standard chemotherapy.

Patients treated with nivolumab showed more positive results than those receiving standard chemotherapy. After 12 months, 36% of patients treated with nivolumab survived, compared to 17% of patients receiving standard chemotherapy. Furthermore, nivolumab treatment doubled the number of patients whose tumors shrank and whose disease did not progress after 6 months, compared to standard chemotherapy.

Improved Quality of Life and Better Response to HPV-Positive Patients

Patients who received nivolumab also reported stable or improved quality of life throughout the study, while those who received chemotherapy reported a decreased quality of life. Additionally, the greatest success was seen in patients who were HPV positive, an important finding as the association of head and neck cancers with HPV infection has increased by 250% in recent years.

Looking to the Future

Although the study showed that most patients' cancer was still progressing, experts are hopeful that immunotherapy can improve the quality of life and extend the life span of head and neck cancer patients. Researchers are developing new biomarkers to help design effective combined therapies and better understand how resistance to cancer drugs develops.