Immunotherapy uses your own immune system to fight cancer.

The immune system can be "trained" by immunotherapy to recognise cancer cells. With the help of this "immune memory," cancer may be protected against reoccurring for a longer period of time, possibly permanently.

Your immune system can prevent and even slow down the growth of cancer cells, but some cancers have adapted to avoid detection. Immunotherapy augments the immune system’s ability to detect and fight tumour cells in certain parts of the body.

Immunotherapy has come a long way in the treatment of various cancers and tumours in recent years. It is a therapy that, when used properly and successfully, can be highly targeted and potentially very effective when it comes to treating and dealing with different cancers.

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When Might Immunotherapy Be Used?

Immunotherapy may prove effective in the course of a cancer treatment plan, when other methods are ineffective or have reached their limits.

Some cancers that don’t respond well to radiation or chemotherapy may respond better with the addition of immunotherapy to the cancer treatment plan.

Immunotherapy can also augment the effects of radiation or chemotherapy. Since it uses your own immune system to help fight the cancer, side effects are often fewer and less debilitating compared to other methods of treating cancer. With immunotherapy, your immune system will be able to better recognise cancer cells it has attacked before.

Immunotherapy can also be used as a first-line treatment for cancers that have begun to spread through the body. Although immunotherapy cannot ‘cure’ cancer, it may be able to help control it and prolong a patient’s life by slowing the growth of tumours and cancerous cells.

Immunotherapy takes about 30-90 minutes per session and may require multiple treatments for several weeks.

What Cancers Can Immunotherapy Treat?

Immunotherapy is a very specific type of treatment and each treatment plan will differ based on the patient and their specific circumstances.

Immunotherapy has been approved for more than 20 kinds of cancer, including:

Immunotherapy might not be suitable to everyone, however. As immunotherapies use the body’s natural immune system; guiding it against the cancer in question, if a patient is for example severely immunocompromised, they may not be a suitable candidate for this treatment.

Types Of Immunotherapy

The type of immunotherapy used wil depend on the type of cancer being treated. Each type of immunotherapy has its own procedures and mechanisms in place.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

These are a typical immune system components that limit excessively aggressive immune responses. Immune checkpoint inhibitor medications will prevent checkpoint proteins from binding with the cancer cell. This allows T cells to better identify and destroy cancer cells. By inhibiting them, these medications enable immune cells to react to cancer more forcefully.

Common side effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors can include rash, fatigue, and diarrhoea. Rarer side effects include inflammation of the skin, lungs, colon, liver, heart, pituitary gland, kidneys, and nervous system.

T-Cell Transfer Therapy

This therapy increases the natural ability of your T cells to fight cancer. During this therapy, immune cells from your tumour are collected. The ones that are most effective at fighting your cancer are selected or modified in the lab, multiplied in large amounts, and then intravenously reintroduced into your body. First, T-Cells need to be lab grown for several weeks. While this is occurring, you will undergo chemo and/or radiation therapy. The T-Cells will then be given back to you via IV.

Side effects of T-cell transfer therapy can include fever, nausea, headache, rash, increased heart rate, hypotension, and difficulty breathing. A serious side effect is known as cytokine release syndrome can occur when T-cells that are reintroduced into the body trigger an immune response.

Monoclonal Antibodies

These are synthetic proteins designed to bind to specific targets on cancer cells. Two types of monoclonal antibodies are used to fight cancer. Naked monoclonal antibodies label cancer cells so that the immune system can detect and destroy them. Conjugated monoclonal antibodies are antibodies combined with a chemotherapy drug or a radioactive particle. These antibodies target cancer cells and can deliver radiation/chemo in a precise manner.

Side effects include fever, chills, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, low blood pressure, and rashes.

Treatment Vaccines

It may be possible to tailor treatment to fight cancer by augmenting your immune system's response to cancer cells. This type of treatment works by training the immune system to recognise and react to antigens that are present on cancer cells. Treatment vaccines can be produced from your own tumour cells or your own immune cells. Treatment vaccines have been approved for treatment-resistant prostate cancer.

Side effects include fever, chills, nausea or vomiting, muscle or joint aches, fatigue, difficulty breathing,

Immune System Modulators

These can increase the body's immune response to cancer. Some of these affect specific parts of the immune system. Cytokines are naturally produced by white blood cells. They are sometimes used to fight cancer. Interferons (INFs) are a type of cytokine that enhances the immune response and slows the growth of cancer cells.

Side effects can include fever, weakness, nausea, fatigue, and headache.

What Are The Risks Of Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a more recent development and advances are still being researched. You might have an adverse reaction the first time you receive immunotherapy. There are side effects to treatment - some immunotherapy may make you feel ill with cold-like symptoms such as fever and fatigue. These usually alleviate after your first treatment.

It can harm your own organs. Some of these drugs can cause your immune system to attack the body itself. Immunotherapy may take longer to work than other treatments and it doesn’t always work. Immunotherapy is successful for less than half of those who try it. Over time, immunotherapy may lose its effectiveness as your body adapts to it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Despite the fact that many of our cells naturally grow and divide, this behaviour is tightly regulated by a number of elements, including the genes within the cells. Cells are instructed to stop growing when no further growth is required.

Unfortunately, cancer cells develop flaws that make them ignore these stop signals, allowing them to proliferate unchecked. The immune system can identify and eliminate cancer cells through a process known as immune surveillance because cancer cells stand out due to their abnormal growth and behaviour.

This method doesn't always work, though. The immune system can sometimes be circumvented by cancer cells, allowing them to continue to grow, metastasize, and spread to other organs.

When compared to conventional treatments, immunotherapy treatments may take longer to show detectable signs of tumour shrinkage. On scans, tumours occasionally appear to enlarge before shrinking, but this apparent swelling may be the result of immune cells engulfing and eliminating cancer.

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