Cancer treatment has made big strides over the years thanks to immunotherapy. This innovative technique harnesses the body’s own immune system to combat cancer cells. Continue searching online to learn more about immunotherapy treatments for cancer.
Immunotherapy offers new hope and a more targeted solution for patients. We provide a better understanding of immunotherapy, including the different types, how it works, the cancers it treats, and any potential side effects.
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy, also known as biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that utilizes the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Unlike traditional treatments that directly target cancer cells, immunotherapy stimulates the patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.
It is founded on the premise that the immune system can distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells, provided it is appropriately primed.
How Does Immunotherapy Work?
Immunotherapy empowers the immune system to recognize and combat cancer by bolstering its natural defense mechanisms. In its regular role, the immune system diligently identifies and eliminates abnormal cells, often curbing the growth of potential cancers. For instance, immune cells known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) can be found in and around tumors, signaling the immune system’s response to the malignancy.
However, cancer cells are good at evading the immune surveillance through genetic alterations that render them less visible to the immune system, surface proteins that disarm immune cells, or manipulation of surrounding cells to interfere with the immune response. Immunotherapy steps in to enhance the immune system’s ability to target and neutralize cancer cells, helping to tip the balance in favor of the body’s defenses.
Types of Immunotherapy
There are several different types of immunotherapy used to treat cancer.
1. Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block certain proteins in the immune system, such as PD-1 or CTLA-4, from inhibiting immune responses against cancer cells. By doing so, these inhibitors unleash the immune system’s full potential to attack the tumor. Drugs like pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) have been successful in treating various cancer types.
2. T-Cell Transfer Therapy
In this technique, T cells (a type of white blood cell) are extracted from the patient, genetically modified or enhanced in the lab, and then reintroduced into the patient’s body. These “supercharged” T cells can more effectively target and destroy cancer cells. Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy and tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy are the two main types of T-cell therapy.
3. Monoclonal Antibodies
Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic antibodies designed to recognize specific proteins on cancer cells. When administered to patients, these antibodies can either tag cancer cells for destruction by the immune system or disrupt the growth and division of cancer cells. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) and rituximab (Rituxan) are examples of monoclonal antibodies used in cancer treatment.
4. Cancer Vaccines
Cancer vaccines, also known as therapeutic vaccines, stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. These vaccines are distinct from preventive vaccines like those for measles or polio. Sipuleucel-T (Provenge), used in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer, is a notable example of a cancer vaccine.
5. Immune System Modulators
Certain drugs can help enhance the immune system’s response to cancer by boosting the production of immune cells or altering the tumor microenvironment. Interferons and interleukins are examples of immune system modulators used in cancer treatment.
What Cancers Does Immunotherapy Treat?
Immunotherapy has shown remarkable potential in treating a wide range of cancers. It has been particularly effective against certain types, including:
- Melanoma: Immune checkpoint inhibitors like pembrolizumab and nivolumab have produced significant responses in patients with advanced melanoma.
- Lung Cancer: Immunotherapy has emerged as a promising treatment for lung cancer, especially in cases where traditional treatments have failed.
- Kidney Cancer: Drugs like nivolumab and ipilimumab have demonstrated effectiveness against advanced kidney cancer.
- Bladder Cancer: Atezolizumab and pembrolizumab are approved for treating bladder cancer when chemotherapy has not been successful.
- Hodgkin Lymphoma: Brentuximab vedotin and nivolumab are being used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma with favorable outcomes.
- Head and Neck Cancers: Cemiplimab, an immune checkpoint inhibitor, is used to treat advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
The success of immunotherapy in these cancer types has led to ongoing research and trials to expand its applications to other malignancies.
Side Effects of Immunotherapy
While immunotherapy holds immense promise, it is not without side effects. These side effects can vary depending on the specific treatment and individual patient characteristics. Common side effects include fatigue, skin rashes, and flu-like symptoms.
In some cases, immune-related adverse events (irAEs) can occur, affecting organs like the lungs, intestines, or endocrine system. It’s crucial for patients undergoing immunotherapy to communicate openly with their healthcare team to manage and mitigate these side effects effectively.
Learn More About Immunotherapy Today!
Immunotherapy represents a groundbreaking approach to cancer treatment, offering renewed hope and more tailored options for patients. As research continues to uncover its potential, immunotherapy is increasingly becoming a standard part of cancer care.
If you or a loved one is facing a cancer diagnosis, discussing the suitability of immunotherapy with your healthcare provider is a vital step toward exploring this transformative treatment option. To delve deeper into this topic, consider further research and discussions with medical professionals.