Immunotherapy refers to a treatment that makes use of the human body’s immune system to fight disease. It boosts the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells more efficiently.
This can be done in two different ways:
- Active immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural defences against cancer cells by giving patients manufactured proteins called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). mAbs specifically target cancer cells and help them to kill themselves without harming healthy tissue around them.
- Passive immunotherapy uses substances made by other animals or plants known to have anti-cancer properties (e.g., measles virus). These are given in high doses by injection into a vein or muscle and act as vaccines against cancer.
The immune system comprises many different cells and proteins that work together to protect us from infection, viruses and other diseases. Some of these cells also recognise abnormal cells, such as cancer cells, and destroy them.
An immunotherapy drug can help the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells more effectively.
There are the following types of immunotherapy:
They are proteins produced by living cells that help identify and destroy invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses. They bind to certain proteins on the surface of cancer cells so they can be recognised by other parts of your immune system, which then kill the cancer cell by releasing chemicals inside it (cytotoxins).
These drugs act like keys that unlock certain locks on healthy tissue so it can be recognised by your body’s defences and tumour tissue.
They block signals that tell your immune system not to attack cancer cells. This treatment is used for melanoma, lung, kidney, and bladder cancer patients.
Checkpoint inhibitor drugs include nivolumab (Opdivo), pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and atezolizumab (Tecentriq).
These are treatments that use your immune cells to fight cancer cells. This can include T-cell therapy or CAR-T cell therapy. These therapies usually have few side effects because they use your own healthy cells.
Cell therapies are still being studied in clinical trials, but they have had promising results for some cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia.
Oncolytic virus therapy
This type of therapy uses viruses to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. This treatment involves injecting a virus into a tumour and allowing it to grow in the cancer cell. The virus then destroys the cancer cell from the inside.
The most commonly used oncolytic viruses are vaccinia and reovirus.
Vaccines are designed to treat cancer by stimulating your immune system to destroy tumour cells. Cancer vaccines work by activating T cells programmed to attack specific proteins found on the surface of cancer cells.
This is called active immunotherapy because it triggers an active response from an immune cell against its target antigen (a substance that causes the immune response).
Immune system modulators
These drugs modify or manipulate the activity of the immune system without directly stimulating it (passive immunotherapy). They help boost your body’s natural defences against cancer by encouraging T-cells and other immune cells to attack tumours.
Examples include interferon-alpha, pegylated interferon-alpha, interleukin-2 and Sargramostim (granulocyte colony-stimulating factor).
Immunotherapy works by giving you medicines like monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) or cytokines that stimulate your immune response against cancerous tumours. It may also be used as a booster after other treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy have been completed.
It works by taking immune cells (called T-cells) from a patient’s blood and programming them to attack cancer cells. The T-cells are then injected back into the patient’s body, where they can target and kill cancer cells.
In the past, immunotherapy was used mainly to treat skin cancers (such as melanoma) whose growth is limited to the skin. But today, researchers are developing new immunotherapy drugs targeting cancers throughout the body.
These drugs can be used alone or in combination with traditional chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
The idea behind this new approach is simple: The body’s immune system recognises cancer cells as abnormal and attacks them. This type of treatment is called active immunotherapy because it uses substances stimulating your immune system to attack cancer cells.
Some reasons why you should opt for immunotherapy are as follows:
It works for many types of cancer
Many clinical trials are underway exploring how immunotherapy for cancer is a preferred mode of treatment. In some cases, it has been shown to work better than standard treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
It’s personalised medicine
Doctors can create an individualised treatment plan based on each person’s disease and its stage at diagnosis, their genetic makeup and other factors related to their immune system function.
This allows for a specific approach designed just for them — which may mean fewer side effects than other treatments. Immunotherapy for allergies is also popular.
The immune system is very complex and difficult to target with other treatments. Immunotherapy works by training or educating the immune system to recognise cancer cells as foreign and destroy them. This makes it a highly targeted treatment option.
Even angiogenesis works as the target as it’s involved in cancer development and progression.
The effect of immunotherapy lasts longer than traditional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which wear off over time. This can help prevent cancer recurrence in some cases.
Immunotherapy side effects can occur with immunotherapies that use immune cells, called cellular immunotherapies. Side effects of cellular immunotherapy may include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and feeling tired (flu-like symptoms)
Nausea and vomiting are the most common side effects of these treatments. These symptoms usually go away within a few hours after treatment ends. Call your doctor immediately if they don’t end after a few hours or are severe enough to prevent you from eating or drinking enough fluids.
You may have flu-like symptoms for up to 3 days after treatment ends. You may need to rest during this time. Call your doctor immediately if these symptoms are very bad and don’t go away within two weeks of receiving the treatment.
It’s important not to drive or use heavy machinery until you feel better because you could get dizzy or pass out from dehydration if you don’t get enough fluids during this time.
The future of cancer treatment is here. Immunotherapy is available to treat all types of cancer and is cost-effective. In addition, immunotherapy cancer treatment works for anyone with the disease. It has already proven itself effective for multiple types of cancers, and as we’ve seen, immunotherapy’s future is incredibly bright.
To avail of a hassle-free immunotherapy consultation, visit the C.K. Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr. Bhawana Awasthy, who will provide you with personalised treatment. Our highly-qualified healthcare professionals provide immunotherapy using state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technologies.