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These are only early results _ not survival comparisons or definitive tests, doctors warn. More testing is needed to even establish safety. In one study, three patients died of a lung inflammation considered due to the treatment.

However, ordinary chemotherapy can prove fatal, too, said one study leader, Dr. Julie Brahmer of Johns Hopkins University.

“There were a few patients who had a complete remission” from the immune system treatments and most patients suffered few side effects, she said. “It’s great to see patients feeling well. They don’t have hair loss, they don’t have a drop in blood counts and are not as prone to infections.”

Dr. Roy Herbst, medical oncology chief at Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Conn., was hopeful.

“I haven’t seen anything this good” for many years for treating lung cancer, he said. “I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t some benefit” on survival, said Herbst, who has consulted for the drug’s maker.

Other doctors, including Pfizer’s cancer drug development chief, Dr. Mace Rothenberg, noted progress on new diagnostic tests to predict which drugs will work for which patients. Cost, time and difficulty have kept many of them from being practical in everyday settings for cancer patients, but “a lot of these barriers are falling,” Rothenberg said.

“Every time we say `this technology is 5 to 10 years off, we’ve been wrong” and progress has come sooner, he said.



Cancer conference:

American Cancer Society:


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