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Oct 17, 2016 12:59 AM EDT

Immunotherapy Drug: Treatment for Patients with Neck and Head Cancer [VIDEO]

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A new study found Immunotherapy drug as effective as it is, wherein it was even called as the 'game changer.' Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses certain parts of a person's immune system to fight diseases such as cancer.

It was discovered that the drug improves survival in patients suffering from head and neck cancer. Those patients with advanced head and neck have a poor survival rate, since the disease is very difficult to treat.

New England Journal of Medicine found that the drug, called Nivolumab, improved survival in phase III clinical trials of patients with head and neck cancer. The international team of researchers found that Nivolumab improved survival rates with fewer side effects when compared to standard therapy.

The patients with cisplatin-resistant relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancers are expected to live no more than 6 months, since there is no current therapy or treatment for it; however, those patients who undergo Nivolumab were alive a year later.

Kevin Harrington from the Institute of Cancer Research in England said in a statement that Nivolumab could be a real game-changer for patients with advanced head and neck cancer. He added that this trial found that it can greatly extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life.

After a year, 36 percent of patients who took this therapy were alive compared to the 17 percent patients receiving chemotherapy. Patients who took Nivolumab also survived for an average of 7.5 months, while those who underwent chemotherapy survived for only 5.1 months on average. Only 13 percent of patients who took Nivolumab had serious side effects compared to 35 percent of those who received chemotherapy.

Patients whose tumors tested positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) had the greatest survival benefit. Those in this group survived for an average of 9.1 months on nivolumab, compared with 4.4 months on chemotherapy.

"Once it has relapsed or spread, head and neck cancer is extremely difficult to treat. So it's great news that these results indicate we now have a new treatment that can significantly extend life, and I'm keen to see it enter the clinic as soon as possible," Harrington said.

Patients who undergo chemotherapy said that they felt physically, socially and emotionally worse, but patients who took the drug remained stable during the course of the study.

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