Immunotherapy is a biological cancer treatment that boosts the body’s immune system to fight the cancer. Your body’s immune system works to detect something harmful, producing antibodies and proteins that fight infection.
How does Immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy works in various ways by stopping or slowing cancer cell growth and preventing cancer cells from spreading to other areas in the body. It helps a patient’s immune system work better at destroying existing cancer cells developed in the body.
Are there different kinds of Immunotherapy?
There are several types of immunotherapy treatments, each of which works differently. For example, some boost the body’s immune system, and others help train the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Monoclonal antibodies are a type of Immunotherapy. They are made in a laboratory to match natural immune system proteins closely. They are designed to attach to specific proteins in cancer cells, directing the immune system to find and destroy these cells.
Other antibodies stimulate the body’s natural immune system to destroy cancer cells. When the immune system can find these cells, it can stop or slow cancer growth.
Interferons and interleukins are two other common, non-specific immunotherapies. Both are made in a laboratory. Interferons help the immune system fight cancer and may slow the growth of cancer cells in the body. In contrast, interleukins help the body’s natural immune system produce cells that will destroy cancer.
Oncolytic virus therapy is a form of Immunotherapy that uses genetically modified viruses to kill cancer cells. The FDA approved the first therapy of this kind in 2015 to treat melanoma. Researchers are currently testing other oncolytic viruses for different types of cancer in clinical trials, and they are also testing the viruses in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy.
T-cell therapy is currently available for only a handful of cancers, and many more treatments are being evaluated in clinical trials. Some T-cells, immune cells that fight infection are removed from a patient’s blood in T-cell therapy. These cells are then changed in a laboratory, so they have specific proteins called receptors; these receptors can recognize cancer cells. Finally, the changed T-cells are returned to the patient’s body. Once there, they seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Cancer vaccines expose the immune system to an antigen, which triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy the antigen. There are currently two types of vaccines: prevention vaccines and treatment vaccines. For example, you have probably heard of the HPV vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus, most widely known for causing Cervical Cancer. There is also a Hepatitis B vaccine that prevents a Hepatitis B virus infection that can cause liver cancer.
As a cancer treatment, cancer treatment vaccines (also known as therapeutic vaccines) are given to people with some cancer to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. Therapeutic vaccines may prevent cancer from reoccurring, destroy cancer cells that remain in the body after treatment, and slow or stop the growth or spread of cancer. Currently, most of these treatment vaccines are only available through clinical trials.