Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment method which relies on the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. When a foreign substance enters the body, the immune system is called into action in order to force the substance out. Immunotherapy treatment supports the immune system in its fight to control and eliminate cancer cells.
Immunotherapy as a Cancer Treatment
Immunotherapy for cancer is divided into 4 main types, according to the cell mechanisms or actions in support of the immune system as follows:
- Monoclonal Antibodies – These are synthetic proteins that imitate the body’s own antibodies. For cancer treatment, these antibodies are designed to target and attack specific parts of cancer cells.
- Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors – Some cancers go unnoticed by hiding from the body’s natural defenses. Immune checkpoint inhibitors target the body’s control and signaling system which differentiates between normal and foreign cells. Thus, these types of drugs have been developed to improve the immune system’s ability to specifically target and destroy cancer cells.
- Cancer Vaccines – This method stimulates the immune system into destroying cancer cells or even preventing cancer cells from taking hold in the first place.
- Other Non-Specific Immunotherapies – These are types of immunotherapies that do not specifically target cancer cells but rather stimulate the whole of the body’s immune system to be better prepared in responding efficiently to cancerous cells.
What Types of Cancer Can Be Treated with Immunotherapy?
Research into the treatment of cancer through immunotherapy is still ongoing. Numerous types of medications used alongside immunotherapy have already been cleared for use in the U.S. These can be used as the main treatment or in conjunction with other standardized treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and/or surgery.
Currently, immunotherapy techniques are being utilized in the fight against the following types of cancer:
- Skin cancer in its aggressive stages
- Some types of lung cancer
- Kidney cancer which is unresponsive to other treatments
- Head and neck cancer which is unresponsive to chemotherapy
- Bladder cancer which is unresponsive to chemotherapy
- Liver cancer
What Are the Potential Side Effects of Immunotherapy?
Although utilizing immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer is effective, there are, unfortunately, some negative side effects which come along with the treatment. Patients undergoing immunotherapy may experience symptoms such as fever, upset stomach or diarrhea, nausea, and mouth ulcers, all of which are natural responses by the body’s immune system. Generally, these symptoms will gradually disappear over time.
Immunotherapy to treat cancer is a relatively new method, and one that has highly specific effects. It is important that patients wishing to undergo immunotherapy have a detailed health assessment prior to undergoing the treatment in order to fully understand what’s involved.