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What Cancer Patients Need to Know About the Opdivo Approval

March 13, 2015

Patient and doctor, seated at a desk

Now that Opdivo (nivolumab) has been FDA-approved for two cancer types, and potentially more in the coming months, many patients are wondering: what’s next?

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), the maker of Opdivo, has put out a series of publications geared towards patients interested in this new therapy, which are available on a new informational website: opdivo.com.

I’ve compiled some FAQs here, for an Opdivo primer:

Is this treatment for me?

Opdivo has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of lung cancer and melanoma in certain patients.

Lung Cancer

Indication

Opdivo has been approved for patients with a specific type of lung cancer: metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). About 85% of lung cancers are NSCLC, and 25-30% of those are squamous NSCLC. The caveat is that it is approved as a second line treatment – meaning, the patient must first be treated with platinum-based chemotherapy, but the cancer continued to grow or spread.

Effectiveness

In one study, it was found to have a 41% reduced risk of mortality compared with chemotherapy. Source.

Melanoma

Indication

Opdivo has been approved for patients with unresectable (cannot be removed surgically) or metastatic melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs.

Effectiveness

In one study, it was found to have a 58% reduced risk of mortality compared with chemotherapy. Source.

What if I have a different type of cancer?

If the current indications don’t apply to you, don’t lose hope – Opdivo and other checkpoint inhibitors are currently being studied for dozens of cancer types in clinical trials across the United States and around the globe.

And don’t lose sight of other FDA approved checkpoint inhibitors, like Yervoy (ipilimumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which are currently approved for melanoma and in clinical trials for other cancer types.

Visit our clinical trial finder to find an immunotherapy trial near you.

Will I be able to get this treatment right away?

In theory, yes, you should be able to begin receiving the treatment right away. Although I have heard, via patient message boards, of some delays with treatment centers securing the drug.

What’s it like to receive Opdivo (nivolumab)?

Every patient is different and every cancer is different, so it’s unfortunately not possible to predict individual outcomes or experiences with this treatment. That said, side effects are generally based around inflammation (immune response) and include things like colitis. For a full list of known side effects, visit Opdivo.com. For many patients, the side effects are minimal, and the benefit great.

During my own cancer treatment, I found it most helpful to read other patients’ experiences. We have stories from several patients here on our site – for example Lynn Luckeroth, who was treated with Opdivo for melanoma.

I also invite you to join us over at The Answer to Cancer, to read stories from patients treated with Opdivo and lots of other immunotherapies, and connect with our ImmunoAdvocates. 

Have more questions? Ask us in the comments.

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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