The war on cancer is now looking within, at the patient's own arsenal of weapons: genes, molecules and the immune system. The conventional regimen of surgery-radiotherapy-chemotherapy is slowly but surely giving way to targeted, personalized treatments and more intricate diagnostic tools. Combination therapies to keep cancers in check are being worked upon.
The emerging field of Immunotherapy is one which harnesses the power of the immune system to fight diseases. Immunotherapy has recently shown impressive results in the treatment of multiple cancers. The introduction of a class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors has dramatically improved therapeutic options. People with melanoma, lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, leukemia, and other cancers may benefit from these drugs.
MMC medical oncologist Dr. Gurdeep Sethi states: “Immunotherapy is an appealing option because it’s designed to empower the immune system to fight many different types of cancers, not just one. A good example is sarcoma which has more than 50 distinct subtypes, and the threat of metastasis is very high. With conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, or even newer targeted therapies, we try to treat the tumor. But it will likely prove difficult to develop a single therapy that would work across all of the sarcoma subtypes. With Immunotherapy this is made possible by treating the person and letting their own body treat the tumor.”
Immunotherapy can be broadly classified into two types:
Passive immunotherapy (helps the immune system act directly against cancer)
A paradigm shift is taking place, with the approach moving toward a regimen where cancer may not have to be cured, but controlled, like diabetes or heart disease. Passive immunotherapy in recent years has shown great promise in boosting the immune system to treat cancer. It involves antibodies or other immune system components that are made outside of the body and administered to patients to provide immunity against a disease to help fight off cancer.
Monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy is the most widely used form of cancer immunotherapy today. mAb acts by targeting specific proteins on cancers cells or inhibiting cancer growth factors. This helps to reduce the rate of growth and proliferation of cancer cells. Monoclonal antibody treatments have been developed for some but not all cancers and certain types of cancer cells are more vulnerable than others to mAb interventions.
Types of cancers include: Brain cancer, Breast cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancers, Hodgkin's lymphoma, Lung cancer and Melanoma.
Checkpoint inhibitors are another type of immunotherapy. They work by activating dormant cell (T-cells) and blocking proteins that stop the immune system from attacking the cancer cells. In recent years, a whole range of new drugs have emerged, like CTLA-4 inhibitors, PD-1 inhibitors and PD-L1 inhibitors, which can activate specific T-cells, depending on the type of cancer. Checkpoint inhibitors are used to treat cancers such as melanoma skin cancer and lung cancer.
Note: Checkpoint inhibitors boost all the immune cells, not just the ones that target cancer. So the overactive T cells can cause possible side effects. Consult your doctor for possible side effects.
Non-specific immunotherapy (enhances the body’s immune response to fight cancer)
Non-specific immunotherapy is perhaps the oldest of all immunotherapies. Its principle is relatively simple: to boost the immune system. This over-activation increases the probability that it will attack cancerous cells. Non-specific immunotherapy includes vaccines that are usually given in combination with chemotherapy (cancer vaccines).
There are several cancer treatment vaccines that can be used to prevent and treat recurrence prostate cancers, ovarian cancers, and multiple myeloma.
Cytokines are proteins made by your body’s cells that enhance communication and coordination of the immune systems’ responses to target antigen like cancer. The two main types of cytokines used to treat cancer are called interferons and interleukins.
BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) is an immunotherapy that is used to treat bladder cancer. When inserted directly into the bladder with a catheter, BCG causes an immune response against cancer cells. There are currently a number of clinical trials underway to study its effects on other types of cancers.
How Immunotherapy Is Given
The different forms of immunotherapy mentioned above can be given in different ways. These include:
- Intravenous (IV): The immunotherapy goes directly into a vein.
- Oral: The immunotherapy comes in pills or capsules that you swallow.
- Topical: The immunotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin. This type of immunotherapy can be used for very early skin cancer.
- Intravesical: The immunotherapy goes directly into the bladder.
Where You Go for Your Immunotherapy Treatment
It is best to receive immunotherapy by a specialized oncologist, cancer hospital, or outpatient unit in cancer specialized healthcare facility. Contact a Vaidam Health Representative today to find the best healthcare facility or medical oncologist that suits your healthcare needs.
How Often You Will Receive Immunotherapy Treatment
How often and how long you receive immunotherapy depends on:
Your type of cancer and how advanced it is
The type of immunotherapy you get
How your body reacts to treatment
You may have treatment every day, week, or month. Some Immunotherapies are given in cycles. To know the best course of treatment, speak to our panel of cancer specialist for guidance on proper care and treatment.