Immunotherapy: Boosting the Immune System to Battle Cancer

The immune system is the first line of defense that the body has against diseases. But with battling cancer, the immune system may need an extra boost. Unlike common illnesses and infections, the immune system sometimes finds it hard to detect and attack cancer cells because it doesn’t view these bodies as foreign.

Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that boosts and enriches the immune system, so that it can better detect and attack cancer. It works by triggering the immune system to work harder or through aiding its functions by introducing man-made proteins.


Types of Immunotherapy

There are several types of immunotherapy. Some help strengthen the immune system as a whole, while some methods prompt the immune system to target cancer specifically.

  • Monoclonal antibodies – This type of immunotherapy involves man-made versions of immune system proteins tailored to attack and identify specific cancer cells.
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors – The immune system has checkpoints that help distinguish the normal cells between foreign bodies. But in some cases, cancer cells are still able to evade attacks because the checkpoints didn’t recognize them as a foreign entity. Immune checkpoint inhibitors acts by taking off the brakes in the checkpoints, allowing the immune system to recognize cancer cells better.
  • Vaccines – Vaccines are substances put in the body to introduce an antigen, so that the immune system can create antibodies for a particular disease. It can also be used as a treatment for training the immune system to detect and fight cancer cells, prevent recurrence, eliminate remaining cancer cells, and preventing cancer growth.
  • Non-specific immunotherapies – Non-specific immunotherapies boost the immune system as a whole.

Immunotherapy can be administered topically, orally, intravenously or intravesically. It is typically an outpatient procedure that can be done in a doctor’s clinic or a hospital unit dedicated for such procedures.

The extent of immunotherapy will depend on the type of cancer and what stage it’s in, the type of immunotherapy, and how the body reacted to treatment.

Physical exams, tests, and scans will be conducted to determine whether a patient is responding to immunotherapy or not.


Success of Immunotherapy

One of the people who benefited from immunotherapy is former US president Jimmy Carter. In December 2015, he announced that his brain is cancer-free due to the treatment. He underwent immunotherapy for melanoma that was first discovered in his liver and later on spread to his brain. Surgery and radiation were also part of his cancer treatment.

Mr. Carter was given immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab under the brand name Keytruda, which is a type of immune checkpoint inhibitor.

It’s possible that immunotherapy has cleared the cancer in Mr. Carter’s brain, but some specialists believe that surgery and radiation had their contribution to his development as well. More so, the drug is relatively new and recurrence and success rates are still hard to measure.


Is Immunotherapy for You?

There are certain factors that need to be considered before including immunotherapy in a cancer treatment plan.

If you’re interested with immunotherapy, discuss it with your doctor. Is it recommended for your condition? If so, will it be the sole treatment or will it just be a part of a bigger treatment plan? Determine the goal of immunotherapy for your case and how it will be administered. Aside from that, figure out its possible implications on your routine and daily activities.
Compared to chemotherapy and surgery, immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment for cancer and further research and studies are still underway to further validate its outcome. However, it’s still worth looking into as you explore treatment options for battling the disease.

Img c/o Pixabay.

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