Lung Cancer Immunotherapy Darkens Patients’ Hair

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  • Patients receiving a specific type of immunotherapy for lung cancer may get an added benefit from the treatment — darker hair. Researchers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain tracked the color of 14 patients’ hair before and during treatment with anti–programmed cell death 1 and anti–programmed cell death ligand 1 (anti-PD1 and anti–PD-L1, respectively) therapies. Thirteen patients had diffuse darkening of the hair, while one developed black patches between white hairs. This pigmentation could be used as a marker to determine whether patients receiving anti-PD1/anti–PD-L1 therapy for lung cancer are responding well to the treatment, the scientists suggest. The results were published in JAMA Dermatology.

    “This is the first description of hair repigmentation during immunotherapy for lung cancer,” says Noelia Rivera, M.D., of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She notes that the treatment can trigger hair depigmentation and skin depigmentation when used to treat malignant melanoma. “Using the same drug for a different disease—lung cancer —we could observe a completely opposed effect,” she says.

    The findings are significant, Rivera explains, because even though knowledge of the immune system is opening new fields, there is still a lot to discover. After scouring journal articles, she and colleagues couldn’t identify a clear mechanism to explain why lung cancer patients treated with anti–programmed cell death 1 (anti–PD-1) and anti–programmed cell death ligand 1 (anti–PD-L1) therapies would grow darker hair, while patients treated for melanoma would lose color in their hair and skin. The results suggest that the same drug might turn different biological “keys” depending on the target of the immune system in different cancers.

    The team came across the link between the anti–PD-1 and…