Immunotherapy Provides Responses in Refractory Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Immunotherapy Provides Responses in Refractory Nasopharyngeal Cancer

According to an early on-line publication in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a type of immunotherapy targeted against cancer cells appears to provide some anticancer responses in patients with advanced nasopharyngeal cancer that has stopped responding to radiation and chemotherapy.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a type of head and neck cancer. Stage IV NPC refers to cancer that has spread from its site of origin and invaded nearby tissues or more distant areas of the body. Standard treatment for stage IV NPC typically includes radiation therapy and chemotherapy. However, a large portion of these patients will stop responding to these standard therapies and are left with very limited treatment options.

NPC is a type of cancer that often appears related to infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). These cancer cells express specific antigens (proteins) on their surface associated with EBV.

Immunotherapy is a type of therapy that stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells within the body. Researchers have been evaluating ways in which to stimulate the immune system to recognize very specific antigens on cancer cells, such as the EBV antigens.

Researchers from Italy recently conducted a small clinical trial to evaluate a type of immunotherapy for the treatment of 10 patients with advanced NPC that has stopped responding to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Immunotherapy was used to stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer cells that displayed EBV antigens.

Overall, the immunotherapy produced anticancer activity:

  • 20% of patients experienced a partial regression of their cancer.
  • 40% of patients experienced disease stabilization.
  • Treatment was well tolerated; mild inflammation at the cancer site occurred in two patients.

The researchers concluded that immunotherapy directed against the EBV antigen in patients with head and neck cancer appears to produce anticancer activity in cancer that has stopped responding to standard therapeutic approaches. Future clinical trials evaluating this technique are warranted, particularly earlier in the course of disease. Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating this treatment or other novel therapeutic approaches.

Reference: Comoli P, Pedrazzoli P, Maccario R, et al. Cell Therapy of Stage IV Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma With Autologous Epstein-Barr Virus-Targeted Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes. *Journal of Clinical Oncology.*Published early on-line October 3, 2005. DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2005.02.6195

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