The Battle Within: How Immunotherapy for Cancer Works

The immune system has an unmatched, irreplaceable role in identifying and eliminating foreign or abnormal tissue, including cancer cells. T Cells and B Cells are the primary life denominators involved in the immune response to cancer. T cells can recognize and attack cancer cells head-on, while B cells produce antibodies that bind to foreign substances to neutralize them.

However, cancer cells can evade immune system detection and destruction by hijacking normal mechanisms of immune checkpoint control. Fortunately, immunotherapy can boost the immune system response. This treatment option stimulates the body’s natural defense mechanism to attack malignant cells, either directly or by introducing lab-generated immune system proteins to target tumors and trigger regression.


Types of Immunotherapy 

Some of the most common immunotherapy techniques include:


1. Monoclonal Antibodies

One of the most highly implemented types of immunotherapies is monoclonal antibodies, which involve producing human-made molecules equipped with targeting abilities directed at specific proteins prevalent in malignant cells. Consequently, these bio-agents actuate an immune response warping elements that help fight off toxicity while simultaneously killing tumor clusters. 

Many distinct monoclonal antibody therapies are available today, including rituximab for cancers like non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and trastuzumab for those affected by HER2-positive breast tumors. Monoclonal antibodies obstruct signals promoting cancer cell proliferation and division, therefore, preventing further tumor growth and making it easier for the human immune system to recognize and destroy cancerous cells.


2. Cancer Treatment Vaccines

A powerful approach to combating cancer includes using vaccines to target proteins unique to malignant tumors without compromising healthy tissues. These vaccines can fall under the following:

  • Preventive vaccines address bacteria or viruses that provoke tumorous growths in the body. HPV vaccines like Gardasil protect against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 at the least, both of which can cause cervical cancer development.
  • Therapeutic vaccines force the immune system to recognize a cancerous cure. These vaccines are a viable option for addressing late-stage or stage IV cancers.

While outcomes from clinical evaluations have produced mixed results in relation to tumor regression induced by the above therapies, some reports – including a recent study published in the Journal of Hematology and Oncology –  demonstrate significant improvement among patients on a vaccine treatment regimen. According to the researchers, cancer vaccines show promise as an immune-therapeutic strategy, activating the immune system response to eliminate malignant tumors.


3. Adoptive Cell Transfer

To fight blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma, scientists have developed an alternative approach called adoptive cell transfer, which involves laboratory modification of T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). In this precision immunotherapy delivery therapeutic technique, an oncologist re-engineers natural killer (NK) or cytotoxic T-lymphocytes and infuses them into the patient’s bloodstream. Although this treatment option is promising for eradicating certain cancers without harming healthy tissues, achieving universal applicability continues to pose hurdles. As such, clinical researchers are conducting further studies on the matter.


Immunotherapy Benefits and Drawbacks

Through precise targeting mechanisms focused on eliminating malignant tumors while sparing normal tissue from harm’s way, immunotherapy becomes a formidable weapon in the fight against cancer. Notably distinct is its ability to provide defensive and offensive cancer protection by activating immunological memory.

Reducing side effects like balding, cognitive issues, and long-term fatigue associated with more conventional medical approaches makes immunotherapy one of the few treatments preferred on a global scale. Moreover, unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can damage healthy cells in the body, immunotherapy uses antibodies or living, modified organisms to target cancer cells exclusively.

Of course, where there are pros, there are also cons. Despite the benefits of immunotherapy, patients with certain cancers may respond inconsistently during sessions. Understanding such drawbacks and discovering new immunotherapy techniques is necessary to ensure a future where everyone, or at least the mass majority, responds positively to less invasive and non-toxic cancer treatment options.


Clinical Trial Findings 

In recent findings by clinical researchers from the University of Cincinnati, combining an immunotherapy drug with conventional treatment resulted in improved survival rates among patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Pembrolizumab, the antibody used throughout the study, binded to the protein on the surface of T cells, stopping cancer cells from suppressing the immune system.

The trial’s objective was to determine whether administering pembrolizumab before a patient undergoes a surgical procedure would act as an immediate preventative measure against recurring cancers. Following surgery, patients received either radiation therapy alone or a combination of chemo and radiation therapy, along with six additional administrations of pembrolizumab.

The clinical trial’s results revealed that administering the combined treatment approach (surgery, radiation, and pembrolizumab) resulted in higher rates of disease-free survival compared to radiation therapy alone. These findings suggest that the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab can be a powerful option for preventing cancer recurrence.


New Developments in Immunotherapy

Researchers are constantly exploring new approaches to immunotherapy, hoping to overcome all limitations and improve the efficacy of existing treatments. Combination therapies, which involve using two or more immunotherapy types, are one such approach. By targeting multiple pathways in the immune system, combination therapies can enhance response rates and prolong survival in patients.

Another promising area of research is identifying novel targets for immunotherapy. For example, neoantigens are a newly discovered protein on cancer cells, arising when specific mutations occur in tumor DNA. Clinical research suggests that neoantigens may help the body create an immune response against malignant cells. When used in cancer treatment vaccines and other immunotherapy techniques, neoantigens show promise as an ally against cancer.


Takeaway: Harness the Power of the Immune System

Immunotherapy has revolutionized the field of cancer treatment by improving the prognosis for millions of cancer patients worldwide. While challenges and limitations remain, researchers are on a mission to overcome them, continuing to make significant progress in improving current breakthroughs while developing new immunotherapy approaches.

Here at New Hope Unlimited, understanding how each individual immune system interacts with cancer cells is a permanent practice. We remain up-to-date on the latest developments in immunotherapy, allowing our healthcare team to provide cancer patients with the most effective and personalized treatment plans available. Experience the power of immunotherapy combined with our expertise today. 

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