Receiving a cancer diagnosis is frightening. Once you’ve recovered from the shock of the news, your first question is usually about treatment. Most people are familiar with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery as treatments for cancer. Still, unless you or a family member have previously had a bout with cancer, you likely don’t know much about other available interventions. One tactic your doctors will probably try is biologic therapy or immunotherapy.
What Is Immunotherapy Treatment?
Immunotherapy uses your body’s immune system to fight cancer. Your immune system is responsible for detecting and battling infections and diseases in your body. Immune cells are often found around cancer cells, which shows that your body is trying to overcome the invasion of abnormal cells. Immunotherapy treatment is a way of supporting and strengthening your immune system as it fights.
The type of immunotherapy that your doctor decides to use and how often you will receive it depends on what type of cancer you have, how advanced it is, and how your body responds to treatment. Since immunotherapy essentially super-charges your immune system to battle abnormal cells, sometimes healthy cells get attacked too, causing side effects. Your doctor will monitor you regularly to determine if therapy needs to be stopped or started and to help you manage side effects. Here are a few types of immunotherapies that may be considered for your treatment.
These immune cell proteins are designed in a laboratory. The protein is made to attach to a specific target on the cancer cell—sort of like a homing beacon—which helps the immune system find and attack the invasive cells that are harming your body more efficiently.
Your immune system has “checkpoints” that keep it from getting too powerful and destroying healthy cells in your body. Normally, that’s a good thing, but you want all the power you can get when it comes to cancer. A checkpoint inhibitor stops the checkpoint feature of your immune system from working so that cancer cells are more recognisable and can be more readily beaten.
A cancer treatment vaccine is similar to other medicines in that its purpose is to help your body identify cancer cells and react strongly to their presence. This treatment uses antigens from the tumour cell to develop targeted therapy. This is a highly customisable option so that the treatment will be specific to your body’s exact form of cancer.
CAR T-cell Therapy
T-cells are a part of your immune system. In the laboratory, your T-cells will be modified to attack cancer in your body. Understanding of exactly how this treatment works is still emerging, so your doctor will be able to make suggestions about whether this is a good option for your condition.
This type of immunotherapy is different from others because instead of targeting a specific part of the cancer cell, this therapy strengthens the immune system overall to help it better fight cancer. Non-specific immunotherapy, or NSI treatments, help the immune system better fight off invasive cells and is the type of therapy most often used in conjunction with a different kind of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Immunotherapy is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment. Your doctor will work with a team of other doctors and specialists to put together a treatment programme that works best for you. You may even be eligible for a clinical trial of a new therapy that could help to eradicate even the rarest and most uncommon forms of cancer. Each individual and each cancer is unique, and immunotherapy may be a key part of helping your body to defeat invasive cells.