Cancer drugs that have been used successfully in the treatment of melanoma are now entering the lung cancer space with doctors reporting groundbreaking results.

Nivolumab is one of the new generation immunotherapy drugs, also known as checkpoint inhibitors that frees the immune system to attack a devastating form of lung cancer.

Trials in Australia, USA and Europe have seen a significant rise in life expectancy, with first year survival rates increasing by 50 per cent in non-selected patients with lung cancer who failed first line chemotherapy.

Gold Coast Private oncologist, Marco Matos, has been treating lung cancer patients with nivolumab since June last year and said the results were astounding.

"Twelve months ago, these patients were failing every treatment available.They were running out of time," he said.

"Immunotherapy has given them another chance."

In Australia, nivolumab is available for non-small cell lung cancer as a second line treatment after chemotherapy.There are trials currently underway to test its effectiveness as a first line treatment, and in combination with chemotherapy.

Dr Matos said the ability to use the immune system to control cancer growth by using antibodies, blocking inhibitory proteins or activating stimulatory pathways was an exciting development.

"Utilising the immune system to fight cancers and complement current chemotherapy treatments is giving real hope to sufferers," he said.

"A new generation of trials are mixing the new immunotherapy molecules with the old cytotoxic therapy and radiation therapy, with the aim of provoking an immune response and allowing for a more active immune system to combat cancers.

"Not only is this therapy extending the life of some patients, many of them are also getting back their quality of life, as the toxicity of checkpoint inhibitors is limited mainly to fatigue, skin rash and itching; and, in only very rare cases, autoimmune reactions."

Dr Matos said in Australia some checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapy drugs were available through Medicare for the treatment of melanoma, but their potential was far reaching.

"Cancer immunotherapy is rapidly evolving," he said.

"There is good data supporting the use of immunotherapy drugs in bladder cancer, head and neck cancers, kidney cancers, triple negative breast cancer, some colorectal cancers, merkel cell carcinomas, and the list keeps expanding.

"While not everybody responds to it, immunotherapy is still relatively new and will continue to be improved and refined.

"The use of immunotherapy drugs is now a reality. My hope is they will be made more readily available for cancer patients."

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