Today, advancements in cancer treatment are taking place at a rapid pace. One form of treatment, called immunotherapy, involves using the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer cells.
Immunotherapy is a treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances or cells made by the body, or treatments created in a lab to improve or restore immune system function.
In a healthy person, the immune system works to identify and eliminate abnormal or diseased cells. When normal cells become cancerous, the immune system responds because these cells appear different. However, cancer cells have a way of hiding from the immune system. They put a cloak over themselves so the immune system can’t see them. Now, with immunotherapy we have a way of decloaking the cancer cells so the immune system can see these cells, attack and kill them.
There are also several types of immunotherapy. Each one works in a specific way to slow and stop the growth of cancer cells, prevent cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body and help the immune system work harder to destroy cancer cells. In addition, some forms of immunotherapy boost the body’s immune system, while others train the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Types of Immunotherapy:
The success of immunotherapy in lung, melanoma and prostate cancer has increased interest in pursuing this form of treatment in other cancers. For example, women diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer are now treated with Herceptin, a form of immunotherapy. Since Herceptin-based treatments began about 20 years ago, the outcomes for these patients have improved greatly. In fact, some women who were on the first experimental treatments with Herceptin are still in remission.
Immunotherapy also offers an improved quality of life for patients who have this treatment option. While chemotherapy targets cancer cells it also damages healthy cells resulting in side effects such as hair loss and nausea. Because not as many healthy cells are damaged with immunotherapy patients often experience fewer and less severe side effects.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in the past year, the role of immunotherapy has grown significantly. Research has uncovered early clues about when this form treatment may work better and these insights are helping guide treatment planning for the future.
Additionally, continued research in the use of immunotherapy includes identifying immune biomarkers to predict treatment response as well as new targeted and combination therapies to improve outcomes.
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