Immunotherapy is the latest breakthrough that has changed and enhanced the standards of care for cancer treatment. This treatment leverages a person’s own immune system to help fight cancer when paired with clinical treatment methods. Immunotherapy is considered a biological therapy, and can boost or change how the immune system works so it can find and attack cancer cells.
As it normally functions, the immune system is a collection of organs and special cells that protect you from infections and diseases by detecting and destroying abnormal cells. Immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural defenses by training the immune system to remember cancer cells, resulting in “immunomemory.” This “immunomemory” typically results in longer lasting remissions as the body understands how to handle most recurrence of cancer.
Types of immunotherapies used to treat cancer include:
- Checkpoint inhibitors allow the immune system to trigger a response to cancer cells.
- T-cell transfer therapy This therapy modifies infection-fighting T-cells drawn from a patient’s own blood re-writes the blood cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. Once it’s been
re-written, then the blood is re-administered back into the patient’s body.
- Monoclonal antibodies - Man-made versions of immune system proteins that act like a patient’s own antibodies to bolster the immune system.
- Treatment vaccines, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which can be used to prevent cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancer, or Hepatitis B vaccine, which can help prevent liver cancer
- Immune system modulators - A group of drugs that boost parts of the immune system to help fight the cancer naturally.
These immunotherapies are currently being used to treat the below cancers:
Due to immunotherapy’s strong ability to fight cancer using a body’s own immune system, it is generally compared to chemotherapy, and can complement each other. While chemotherapy and immunotherapy can both be used to kill cancer cells, they differ in their approach:
- Chemotherapy uses special drugs to kill fast-growing cells, both cancerous and non-cancerous, and is generally seen as a reactive approach to cancer.
- Immunotherapy uses various drugs and treatments to train your body to combat cancer cells, generally being seen as a preventative or long-term approach toward fighting cancer.
Chemotherapy and immunotherapy when combined show how they are a power force against most cancer cells in your body, then boost the body’s natural defenses after the fact. Oncologists and researchers continue to test and practice different treatments to combat cancer and provide additional breakthrough treatment for all cancers.
At MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center, patients can receive immunotherapy, which may also be combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy to help reduce treatment-related side effects. Patients will be connected to a comprehensive care team that will help guide them through every step of their treatment.
To learn more, visit memorialcare.org/TCI