GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Researchers in Grand Rapids are working to solve a piece of the cancer puzzle with a new use of immunotherapy.
It's a growing area of research in lung cancer. It involves medicines designed to work directly with the body's own immune system to fight cancer.
Lung cancer results in more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Nearly 8,000 people in Michigan are diagnosed with it every year, and more than 100 people die from the cancer in Michigan each week. Most of those deaths are related to smoking.
Immunotherapy boosts our immune systems, allowing our bodies to recognize and attack cancer cells naturally.
Dr. Yuanbin Chen from Spectrum Health's Hematology and Oncology Center says he has seen a lot of progress since the therapy was first introduced to fight cancer a couple of years ago.
"We have been seeing more and more people with Stage 4 lung cancer as long-time survivors with really good quality of life," Dr. Chen said, "and those numbers are increasing with the immunotherapy. That's something we’ve never seen with chemotherapy."
Chen added that immunotherapy is easier for patients to handle as opposed to chemotherapy. There are fewer side effects.
Immunotherapy can be used simultaneously with chemotherapy.
Dr. Chen urges people between ages 55 and 74 with heavy smoking habits get screened for lung cancer. Early detection is the key to saving lives.