Immunotherapy for lung cancer

These drugs can stimulate the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer. Immunotherapy may be effective in treating some forms of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) such as squamous cell lung cancer.

Nivolumab and pembrolizumab are two immunotherapy drugs that work by permitting the immune system to bypass ‘checkpoints’ set up by the cancer that block the immune system.

Both of these drugs block a protein called PD-1 found on immune cells. Nivolumab and pembrolizumab release this brake, allowing the immune system to attack cancer harder. Several checkpoint immunotherapy drugs are currently being tested in clinical trials for lung cancer.

Side effects of immunotherapy

The side effects of immunotherapy drugs are different to chemotherapy. They will vary depending on the organ affected, but may include shortness of breath (lungs) and diarrhoea (bowel).


This information was last reviewed in November 2016.
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