Immunotherapy’s promise for penile cancer treatment

Immunotherapy for advanced penile cancer: Global report.

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A recent study has shown encouraging results for using a type of treatment called immunotherapy to help people with penile cancer. This type of cancer is uncommon but can be challenging to treat.

Researchers studied how well a special kind of treatment, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, works for people with a rare and tough-to-treat type of penile cancer. This type of cancer is called penile squamous cell carcinoma.

Researchers, including those from Yale Cancer Center at Yale University, looked at how effective these immune checkpoint inhibitors are for patients with advanced penile squamous cell carcinoma. These inhibitors are drugs that help the body’s immune system fight cancer.

Their study found that immune checkpoint inhibitors could benefit some patients with advanced penile cancer. The researchers discovered this by studying these drugs that stop specific proteins from working together to help cancer cells grow.

The study’s findings were published on August 11 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. This research could bring hope to people with this rare form of cancer, as it shows a potential new way to treat it.

Co-first author Amin Nassar a member of Yale Cancer Center and a clinical fellow at Yale School of Medicine, said, “These findings provide encouraging evidence that immune checkpoint inhibitors can be effective in treating a subset of patients with penile squamous cell carcinoma. Further translational studies and biomarker-based research are essential to identify patients most likely to benefit from this therapy and improve the outcomes for individuals with penile cancer.”

From 2015 to 2022, scientists studied 92 patients with advanced penile cancer to see how well a treatment works. This treatment is called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).

The researchers used different ICIs, like pembrolizumab, nivolumab, and cemiplimab, to help the patient’s immune systems fight the cancer. Some patients got a combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab.

What they found was promising. About 13% of all patients, and 35% of patients whose cancer had spread to lymph nodes, responded well to the ICIs. It means the treatment helped their bodies fight the tumor. On average, patients lived for about 9.8 months after starting the treatment. Some patients did experience side effects from the treatment, but it was around 29% of them.

One of the researchers, Talal El Zarif, said “this study is critical because it shows that this treatment could be a good option for people with this rare type of cancer.”

They hope that as they learn more, the treatment can improve and help more patients with penile cancer.

Journal Reference:

  1. Talal El Zarif, MD, Amin H Nassar, MD, et al., Safety and efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors in advanced penile cancer: report from the Global Society of Rare Genitourinary Tumors. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, DOI:10.1093/jnci/djad155.
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