Immunotherapy for Laryngeal Cancer
Laryngeal cancer is a difficult cancer to treat. In fact, the standard treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, or CRT, for the early stages of this cancer of the voicebox is highly toxic to other cells in the body and can lead to a number of side effects.
That's one reason many researchers hope that immunotherapy, also known as biologic therapy or biotherapy, may offer an alternative. Immunotherapy gets your immune system involved in treating cancer by stimulating it to work harder at fighting and destroying the cancer. It is generally less toxic than chemotherapy, although it can cause symptoms such as chills and fever, nausea, and rashes, as well as more serious side effects.
The most widely used form of immunotherapy to treat cancer involves proteins called monoclonal antibodies. These antibody proteins bind to a specific target, such as cancer cells, and leave most healthy tissues alone. This type of immunotherapy is usually developed in a lab and often injected into the patient.
Immunotherapy for cancer of the larynx
One type of monoclonal antibody that has been specifically studied for laryngeal cancer is known as cetuximab (Erbitux), a drug given by injection.
Sometimes, cetuximab is given along with radiation therapy as a first-line treatment for advanced laryngeal cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma. Other times, it may be tried as an option when other cancer therapies have not been successful.
The FDA recently approved cetuximab in combination with other therapies for the treatment of recurrent or spreading head and neck cancers. The FDA had already approved this immunotherapy in conjunction with radiotherapy for local head and neck cancers, and head and neck cancers that have spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
In its latest approval, the FDA noted that the drug may be toxic to the heart and may cause sudden death. The agency recommended that health care providers carefully monitor blood levels of electrolytes, magnesium, calcium, and potassium in patients using cetuximab.
If you have laryngeal cancer, discuss cetuximab immunotherapy with your doctor. You may also want to consider participating in a clinical trial of other types of immunotherapy for your cancer.