Before we sit down and discuss if immunotherapy is beneficial or harmful and the merits and demerits of this particular treatment, we must first talk about what it is. To keep our bodies healthy, our immune systems are intended to battle sickness and infection. Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that encourages our bodies to fight and eliminate cancer on their own. It promotes the immune system to work harder, making it easier to combat cancer cells and kill them. Many immunotherapy medications have been granted a license. They are being used as a viable cancer treatment, but many more are still being examined in clinical trials to see effective and safe.
Types of cancer immunotherapy
There are various types of immunotherapy used for cancer treatment, and many of them are being researched.
- Checkpoint inhibitors work by removing the ‘brakes’ on the immune system, allowing it to recognize and fight cancer cells.
- Antigen receptor chimeric (CAR) T-cell treatment involves extracting T-cells from a patient’s blood, infusing them with a specific virus that teaches the T-cells how to connect to tumor cells, and then returning the cells to the patient so that they may discover, bind to, and eliminate the disease.
- Cytokines treatment stimulates the immune cells to target cancer via cytokines (small proteins that transport messages between cells).
- Immunomodulators are a group of medications that enhance various immune system components to diagnose and treat cancer.
- Vaccines are compounds that are injected into the body to trigger an immune response to particular diseases. We usually perceive them as something that is given to healthy people to help them avoid getting sick. That being said, some vaccines can also aid in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
- Monoclonal antibodies (MABS or MOABS) are artificial immunoglobulins. Since they may be designed to target a specific area of a cancer cell, mAbs can be very beneficial in breast cancer treatment.
- Oncolytic viruses are germs that have been genetically engineered in the lab to invade and destroy cancer cells.
How is immunotherapy given?
Different types of immunotherapy can be administered in various ways. These are:
- Intravenous(IV): This is administered directly into a vein.
- Oral: The immunotherapy is taken in the form of pills or capsules that are swallowed.
- Topical: Immunotherapy is administered as a cream that is applied to the skin. This sort of immunotherapy can be utilized to treat skin cancer in its early stages.
- Intravesical: Immunotherapy is administered directly to the bladder.
Immunotherapy in the fight against cancer
The immune system recognizes and destroys aberrant cells as part of its regular activity, which most likely prevents or slows the progression of many malignancies. TILs (tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes) are immune cells that infiltrate tumors and show that the immune system responds to them. TILs in tumors are associated with a better prognosis than those without them.
Even while the immune system can stop or delay cancer growth, cancer cells have developed strategies to circumvent immune system destruction. Cancer cells, for example, can:
- Undergo genetic modifications that make them less noticeable to the immune system.
- Have proteins on their surface, causing immune cells to shut down.
- Alter the normal cells in the tumor’s vicinity to interfere with the immune system’s response to the cancer cells.
Which cancers are treated with immunotherapy?
Many forms of cancer have been successfully treated with immunotherapy medicines. On the other hand, immunotherapy is not as standard as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Benefits of Immunotherapy
- Reinforce other therapies: Other treatments, including chemotherapy, may be more effective when combined with immunotherapy.
- Effective when other therapies fail: Certain diseases, such as skin cancer, do not react well to chemotherapy or radiation, but immunotherapy may be an option.
- Fewer adverse effects: Because it solely affects your immune system, there may be fewer side effects.
Cancer is less likely to recur in the future. If cancer cells reappear, your immune system learns to go after them (immuno-memory).
Risks of Immunotherapy
- Some types of immunotherapy stimulate your immune system, causing flu-like symptoms. Weight gain, stuffiness, diarrhea, and edema are all possible side effects.
- Pain, itching, redness, swelling, or discomfort may occur in the area where the drug is applied.
- Immunotherapy can trigger your immunity to target your intestines, kidneys, heart, and many other organs.
- Immunotherapy can take time to work compared to other treatment alternatives.
- Only about half of those who opt for immunotherapy succeed.
- Immunotherapy may lose its effectiveness.
Immunotherapy, like all cancer treatments, comes with its own set of hazards. It can change your immune system to malfunction, resulting in autoimmune illnesses, fever, and other health issues.
How effective is immunotherapy against cancer?
The success rate of any cancer treatment, including immunotherapy, depends on individual characteristics such as disease kind and stage. Immunotherapy is generally successful against a wide range of malignancies. While some malignancies are more immunogenic than others, immunotherapy is beneficial in treating a wide range of cancers in general. Unlike chemotherapy or radiation, immunotherapy can induce long-lasting responses, but only around a quarter of patients experience them. According to certain studies, the immune system may recall cancer cells even after treatment has ended.
Visit University Cancer Centers today and get all the relevant information on immunotherapy in cancer treatment. You can also book an appointment with University Cancer Centers to talk to a cancer specialist.