Immunotherapy works by using a person’s immune system to fight diseased cells, such as cancer cells, much as it would fight against a germ, virus, or allergen. Immunotherapy is an amazing advancement in the treatment against cancer, and research is constantly evolving to make it even more effective.
How does the immune system work?
Your immune system is found throughout all your cells and organs within your body, and it is used to attack foreign intruders like bacteria or viruses as well as some cancers. When your body is under attack, your immune system will send out white blood cells, or leukocytes, to seek and destroy the bad cells. However, cancer cells can be harder for your body to seek out because cancer develops from good cells within your body that have been changed or altered and begin metastasizing. Because of this, your body doesn’t always recognize that something is wrong.
This is where Immunotherapy comes in.
Research has developed a way to enhance your body’s defense mechanism to strengthen and target cancer cells that your body may not detect on its own.
Here are different types of immunotherapies used to destroy cancer
- Checkpoint inhibitors: These medications essentially remove the “brakes” from the immune system, allowing it to recognize and fight cancer cells.
- Antigen receptor chimeric (CAR) – T-cell treatment involves extracting T-cells from a patient’s blood, combining them with a unique virus that teaches the T-cells how to connect to tumor cells, and then returning the cells to the patient so that they may detect, attach to, and kill the cancer.
- Cytokines: Cytokines are small proteins that transport messages between cells. They’re used in this treatment to drive immune cells to target cancer.
- Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are administered to the body to elicit an immune response against a specific pathogen. We normally picture them as being given to healthy people to help them avoid getting sick. However, some vaccines can aid in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
- Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs or MoAbs)- are synthetic copies of immune system proteins. Because they may be engineered to assault a highly particular region of a cancer cell, mAbs can be very beneficial in cancer treatment.
- Oncolytic viruses: This treatment employs laboratory-modified viruses to infect and kill tumor cells.
- Immunomodulators- are medications that enhance components of the immune system to treat specific types of cancer.
Does Immunotherapy cause side effects?
Like other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment, there are side effects of immunotherapy that you should be aware of. Some of the most common side effects are found in the GI, specifically diarrhea and bowel inflammation. Some patients also report vomiting and nausea. All these side effects can contribute to unwanted weight loss and fatigue. The side effects can range from mild to severe, which can lead to exhaustion, extreme weight loss and dehydration. In extreme cases, many patients are hospitalized due the severity of symptoms.
In a study done at Memorial Sloan Kettering, 19% of patients who had severe GI side effects were unfortunately put on hold or had to go off immunotherapy treatment.
No one should have to make the decision to stop a lifesaving treatment due to cancer treatment side effects
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